Once upon a time, it was accepted wisdom that not all cultures are of equal standing. It was widely recognised that the ideas which define Western civilisation – individual freedom, representative government, scientific enquiry, and so on – are palpably better than those that existed previously, or continue to exist in other cultures. Today, however, the West is increasingly presented as a historical backwater, whose values and institutions are designed to oppress minority groups and prop up the ‘capitalist patriarchy’.
This tendency has been the calling card of left-wing identitarians and some Marxists, who take the enduring problems of racism and sexism as representative of Western culture. But of course, it is only because of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment that racial and sexual equality resonate so strongly with us today. In his seminal 1689 work Two Treatises of Government, the English philosopher John Locke – known as the “Father of Liberalism” – defended the claim that all people are, by nature, free and equal:
To properly understand political power and trace its origins, we must consider the state that all people are in naturally. That is a state of perfect freedom of acting and disposing of their own possessions and persons as they think fit within the bounds of the law of nature. People in this state do not have to ask permission to act or depend on the will of others to arrange matters on their behalf. The natural state is also one of equality in which all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal and no one has more than another. It is evident that all human beings – as creatures belonging to the same species and rank and born indiscriminately with all the same natural advantages and faculties – are equal amongst themselves.
When we do not allow our understanding of history to be corrupted by Wokeist ideologues, the iniquities of racism and sexism are recognised as aberrations of Western culture. The same goes for imperialism: when European nations went to war in 1914, this was not a manifestation of Enlightenment values, but rather a failure to uphold them. Humanism was forsaken for nationalism; rationalism was jettisoned for jingoism. As the Martinique-born anti-imperialist Frantz Fanon put it The Wretched of the Earth:
All the elements of a solution to the great problems of humanity have, at different times, existed in European thought. But the action of European men has not carried out the mission which fell to them, and which consisted of bringing their whole weight violently to bear upon these elements, of modifying their arrangement and their nature, of changing them and finally of bringing the problem of mankind to an infinitely higher plane.
This also applies to the United States, whose liberal architects would surely be aghast at the destructive wars of recent memory. To offer but one example, let us refer to the Selected Writings of James Madison, edited by Ralph Ketcham. In 1794, when British attacks on American vessels increased dramatically, Madison resisted calls for military retaliation, opting instead for a commercial response. Writing in an April 1795 pamphlet, the great statesman rebuked his warmonger critics with the following:
Of all the evils to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops every other. War is the patent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes, are the known instruments for bringing the many under the dominion of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people! No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
In this article, we will distinguish Western civilisation from its caricature by the modern Left, using common knowledge of European history. We will rebuff those pseudo-intellectuals who, in their denigration of the West, seek to delegitimise the Scientific Method as our primary means of understanding reality. In doing so, we aim to give Irish people and other denizens of the West the necessary confidence to defend their way of life from Islam – the great destroyer of liberal values and inventive cultures.
The Foundations of Western Civilisation
At his trial for impiety, Socrates famously stated that the unconsidered life is not worth living. He meant that a life lived without forethought or principle is a life that is so vulnerable to chance, and so dependent on the choices and actions of others, that it is of little value to the person living it. He further meant that a life well-lived is one which has goals and integrity, and is directed to the fullest extent possible by the one who lives it. As the liberal philosopher A.C. Grayling puts it in The Meaning of Things:
As the phrase suggests, the ‘considered life’ is a life enriched by thinking about things that matter – values, aims, society, the characteristic vicissitudes of the human condition, desiderata both personal and public, the enemies of human flourishing, and the meanings of life. It is not necessary to arrive at polished theories on all these subjects, but it is necessary to give them at least a modicum of thought if one’s life is to have some degree of shape and direction.
To give thought to these matters is like inspecting a map before a journey. Looking at a map is not the same thing as travelling, but it at least provides orientation, a sense of place and of how places relate to each other – especially those one would like to visit. A person who does not think about life is like a stranger mapless in a foreign land; for one such, lost and without directions, any turning in the road is as good as any other, and if it takes him somewhere worthwhile it will have done so by the merest chance.
These sentiments capture the essence of Western civilisation. Our literature, our philosophy, and our politics have their origins in the wisdom of Ancient Greece and Rome. Thanks to the considered life, centuries before the birth of Christ, some Greek city states were already acquainted with a form of democracy. From Rome we inherited the Latin language, which became Europe’s lingua franca for many centuries, as well as Roman law, on which the contemporary legal system of continental Europe is based.
If we are to link Western values with specific thinkers, we are obliged to start with Cicero, that great Academic Skeptic and Roman statesman. In Cicero’s writings, we find the humanism and the beautiful Latin which would inspire both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Indeed, David Hume famously described Cicero as his favourite author on moral questions. Earlier, the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus remarked that whenever he read Cicero’s On Old Age, he felt like kissing the book.
Cicero was a humanist in the modern sense of the term – that is, one who believes that identifying moral values can only be done by understanding human needs, interests, and desires. He believed that individuals are autonomous, free to think and choose for themselves; and that they have rights, and that rights imply responsibilities. Above all, he believed that all men are brothers, and that “kindness, generosity, goodness and justice” are the deepest ties holding us together. To quote from De Legibus:
There is nothing so alike, so equal, as all of us with each other. If the depravity of habits and the variety of opinions did not twist the weakness of our minds this way and that, no one would be so like himself as all people would be like all others. Thus, whatever definition there is of ‘human,’ it is valid for all. (1.29)
In terms of science, we begin with the Greek philosopher Epicurus. While Epicurus is said to have written over 300 works, sadly, most of these have not survived. However, thanks to the efforts of the Roman poet Lucretius, his genius has been preserved. In Lucretius’ poem De Rerum Natura, which dramatizes the theories of Epicurus, we discover that the latter predicted much of what we only now know to be true. Here is how Epicurus described atoms, over 2,000 years before J.J. Thomson proved their existence:
Nature breaks up each thing again into its own first-bodies, nor does she destroy ought into nothing. For if anything were mortal in all its parts, each thing would on a sudden be snatched from our eyes, and pass away. For there would be no need of any force, such as might cause disunion in its parts and unloose its fastenings. But as it is, because all things are put together of everlasting seeds, until some force has met them to batter things asunder with its blow, or to make its way inward through the empty voids and break things up, nature suffers not the destruction of anything to be seen…
As the sun’s year rolls round again and again, the ring on the finger becomes thin beneath by wearing, the fall of dripping water hollows the stone, the bent iron ploughshare secretly grows smaller in the fields, and we see the paved stone streets worn away by the feet of the multitude; again, by the city-gates the brazen statues reveal that their right hands are wearing thin through the touch of those who greet them ever and again as they pass upon their way. All these things then we see grow less, as they are rubbed away: yet what particles leave them at each moment, the envious nature of our sight has shut us out from seeing.
In terms of historical enquiry, we look to the Greek writer Herodotus, in whom we also find a deep aversion to racism. Herodotus regarded his work as the outcome of research: what he had seen, heard, and read, but also supplemented and verified by investigation. For him, “historical facts have intrinsic value and rational meaning.” He was totally devoid of racial prejudice – indeed, Plutarch later branded him a philobarbaros, a ‘nigger lover’ – and his work shows considerable sympathy for Persians and Persian civilisation.
Herodotus represents Persians as honest – “they consider telling lies more disgraceful than anything else” – brave, dignified, and loyal to their king. As to the religions of the various peoples he studied, Herodotus showed his customary intellectual curiosity, but also his reverence for all of them, because “all men know equally about divine things.” For a more detailed exploration of Herodotus’ attitudes to foreign cultures and peoples, the reader is advised to seek out The Histories, translated by G.C. Macaulay.
Finally we come to Pericles, that eminent statesman of ancient Greece. Pericles heavily promoted the arts and literature; indeed, it is principally through his efforts that Athens would be recognised as the educational and cultural centre of classical antiquity. But of course, Pericles was also a champion of democratic governance. In his famous Funeral Oration at the mass grave of those who had died in the first year of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.), Pericles extolled the virtues of Athenian democracy:
Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.
The Renaissance and Reformation
In 325 A.D., Emperor Constantine I intervened in a religious conflict. In order to smooth things over, he invited all Christian bishops to attend a council in Nicaea, near present-day Istanbul. After lengthy debates, Constantine signed up to a creed stating that God and Jesus are one entity; this ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In 380 A.D., the emperors of Eastern and Western Rome – Theodosus I and Valentinian II, respectively – signed a decree making Christianity the official religion of the Empire.
These developments marked the end of scientific enquiry in Europe. Indeed, the newly established Church of Rome presented itself as the ultimate source of truth; it taught that human reason is fallen and finite, and therefore that attempting to penetrate nature’s secrets is blasphemy. For over a thousand years, the scepticism of classical antiquity would be abandoned, while its mistakes would be calcified. Thus, early medieval Europe was dominated by stagnant thinking – an era referred to as the Dark Ages.
In the late 15th century, however, Europeans started to explore the secrets of nature once again. A new mindset began to emerge, in which man rather than religion was the primary source of knowledge and truth. Indeed, while most historians would regard Christopher Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic Ocean as the most significant thing to happen in 1492, in that very same year, we would witness the publication of Niccolo Leoniceno’s The Errors of Pliny – and with it, the beginning of the Renaissance.
For nearly one and a half millennia, Pliny’s Natural History had been the chief repository of scientific knowledge in the Western world. In demonstrating the falsity of dozens of Pliny’s statements, Leoniceno thus took a sledgehammer to one of the main pillars of “accepted wisdom”. His readers would soon understand that they were faced with a world as new as the one which Columbus had discovered. Enquiry had to be restarted, not only to correct past mistakes, but to discover truths entirely new.
Within twenty years of the publication of Leoniceno’s book, Petrus Magnus produced a diatribe titled Everything Aristotle Said Was Wrong. This was a silly and excessive work in parts, but it amply shows how, within a generation, the mental climate had shifted dramatically. Just a few years more, and the young anatomist Andreas Vesalius would examine the human skeleton for himself, instead of trusting to an ancient text on the subject. The result of this was The Structure of the Human Body in 1543.
On the day that he announced the outcome of his research, standing in a crowded theatre with a throng of professors and students looking on in amazement, Vesalius employed a simple technique: he read out Galen’s description of an anatomical feature, and then held up the damning contrary evidence for all to see. The new beginning in science was empirical, independent-minded, and blunt in its challenge to other alleged sources of knowledge – the past, holy writ, and the sagacity of greybeards.
Modern times had begun. With it began a new chapter in the wars of knowledge, whose casualties now had to suffer at the stake, on the battlefield, in the ducking-stool, and in countless other ways, as the defenders of Catholic dogma and “accepted wisdom” fought the purveyors of new knowledge at every turn. The Renaissance had reignited the scepticism of classical antiquity; it had created a new passion for enquiry in the minds of Europeans, and would not be abandoned without a fight.
This passion was shared by a brave German priest and professor, named Martin Luther. In 1517, Luther penned his Ninety-five Theses and nailed them to the door of the Schlosskirche (castle church) in Wittenberg. In doing so, he was publicly stating his opposition to the dubious teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, such as the sale of indulgences. With this simple but principled act, Luther ignited the spark of the Reformation – at its heart, a rejection of the restraints on enquiry imposed by the Church.
For his defiance, Luther almost paid with his life. In 1521, he was summoned by Emperor Charles V to justify his heretical ideas at the Diet in Worms. When he refused to retract his writings, only the protection of the Elector of Saxony saved him from being burned at the stake. A few years later, another reformist named John Calvin would condemn the theology and practices of the Church as at odds with the Beatitudes. This 16th century Protestantism contributed to the rebirth of critical thought and democracy in Europe.
In mankind’s long struggle for freedom, there can be few movements more pivotal than the Enlightenment. This is made evident by reflecting on the values which underpin our prosperity today – liberty, toleration, rational enquiry, constitutional government, separation of church and state, and so on – for these are precisely the values which animated Kant, Voltaire, and other 18th century luminaries who sought to liberate the mind from traditional authority. To quote from What Is Enlightenment?:
Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of reason, but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!” That is the motto of enlightenment.
Arguably, the flagship project of the Enlightenment was the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, edited by French philosopher Denis Diderot and mathematician Jean le Rond d’Alembert, and published in many volumes between 1751 and 1772. This was a ferocious assault on religious and political authority, which the authors recognise as barriers to intellectual and social progress. “Have courage to free yourselves,” Diderot exhorts his fellows in words to be echoed by Kant:
Examine the history of all peoples in all times and you will see that we humans have always been subject to one of three codes: that of nature, that of society, and that of religion and that we have been obliged to transgress all three in succession, because they could never be in harmony.
The Enlightenment was a call for us to understand the world not by deference to authority, but by using philosophy and science. The impact of this approach can be seen in the immense political and social changes which followed – namely, the advent of human rights, democracy, and civil liberties; the much wider spread of education; and the refutation of the claims of absolute monarchy and religions. It was motivated by a real desire for the improvement of mankind’s lot, and achieved this in practice.
Of course, as with any major upset to the established order, there were many intellectuals who took exception to the Enlightenment. Nowadays, these figures are commonly referred to as Romantics, or proponents of Romanticism. Essentially, the Romantics believed that if we allow reason to dominate life, it takes the magic out of it. For the likes of Byron and Wordsworth, life should ultimately be about how we feel; it should be about the land and the folk, as Fichte argued, or the ideal man, as Nietzsche put it.
As a matter of fact, Enlightenment rationalism never claimed that reason should operate at the expense of emotion; Percy Bysshe Shelley, for example, was both a titan of atheism and a hopeless romantic. If we value the arts, we should never want to dispense with the poetry or the music of Romanticism. However, we could certainly do without the politics, the sociology, and the anthropology of it. Obsessing over blood and soil, or the superman, is pernicious, as the horrors of Nazi Germany deftly illustrate.
The success of the Enlightenment and its antecedents has meant that today, Western countries rank the highest in terms of press freedom, life expectancy, gender equality, and other indicators of human well-being. So it is that every year, millions of people leave their home countries behind in the hopes of obtaining asylum in Europe, North America, and Australasia. This is something to be proud of, however much it may upset those merchants of victimhood who regard Western civilisation as the devil incarnate.
Postmodern Attacks on Science
Recent trends in social science and the humanities have called into question conventional notions of truth and reality. The claim is made in these circles that all statements, whether in science or literature, are simply narratives – stories that do nothing more than articulate the cultural prejudices of the narrator. In this view, one narrative is as good as another, since each is expressed in the language of its particular culture and thus contains all the assumptions about truth embedded in that culture. Texts have no intrinsic meaning; rather, their meanings are created by the reader. The conclusions are then drawn that no narrative can have universal validity and that “Western” science is no exception.
It is certainly true that science relies on human thought processes, and does not always follow a logical path to the conclusions it makes about reality. True, science never absolutely proves the correctness of these conclusions, and must always couch its results in terms of likelihoods or probabilities. Nevertheless, the predictions of scientific theories are very often sufficiently close to certainty that we bet our life on them, such as when we board an aeroplane or lie on an operating table. When predictions are that reliable, we can rationally conclude that the concepts on which they are based must have some universal validity – in other words, that they must somehow be connected to the way things really are.
Reality acts to constrain our observations about the world, preventing at least some of those observations from being completely random, arbitrary, or what we might simply like them to be. Although much of what we do observe is in fact random, not everything is. And while we humans can exert a certain amount of control over reality, that reality is not merely the creation of our thought processes. In a dream about jumping off a building, we might float to the ground unharmed. Superman can fly by and rescue us, in our fantasies. But in reality, the law of gravity means that we hit the ground with a hard splat, no matter how we might wish otherwise. To quote the late, great particle physicist Victor J. Stenger:
Modern physics strongly suggests a surprisingly uncomplicated, non-mysterious “ultimate reality” that may not be what we wish it to be, but is supported by all known data. Furthermore, this reality is very much like what was inferred by some remarkable thinkers in the ancient world: a universe composed of elementary objects that move around in an otherwise empty void. I call this atomic reality.
Stenger’s proposal flies in the face of those academics who repudiate all attempts, within science and without, to describe a universal, objective reality. One must state it plainly: many, if not most, of these people are not interested in understanding the nature of reality, but rather in undermining the legitimacy of science, which they see as a form of ‘white supremacy’. (For an explicit example of this, see Robin DiAngelo’s criticism of the Enlightenment for “its privileging of particular forms of knowledge over others, e.g. written over oral, history over memory, rationalism over wisdom”). We stand in full opposition to these braindead zealots, and maintain that the Scientific Method is our foremost tool for the discovery of fundamental truth.
Having affirmed the greatness of Western culture, we should not hesitate to challenge those totalitarian ideologues who are determined to paint it in as negative a light as possible. From classical antiquity to the Enlightenment, the use of reason and the challenging of “accepted wisdom” have provided us with the gold standard for human conduct. Indeed, when we speak of ‘Western’ values, what we are actually talking about are values that are conducive to our species’ well-being – and thus, are universally applicable.
For example, let us consider the treatment of women. It is a disturbing reality that in some cultures, women are treated as property, whose value is tied up in their virginity. As such, if a virgin woman is raped, she is regarded as having lost her value, and thus worthy of disposal – often by immolation or slitting her throat. Contrast this cruelty with the West, where rape is considered a most serious violation of human rights, and where all manner of support exists for victims of it. To quote Sam Harris from The End of Faith:
Of course, honor killing is merely one facet in that terrible kaleidoscope that is the untutored, male imagination: dowry deaths and bride burnings, female infanticide, acid attacks, female genital mutilation, sexual slavery – these and other joys await unlucky women throughout much of the world. Any culture that raises men and boys to kill unlucky girls, rather than comfort them, is a culture that has managed to retard the growth of love. Such societies, of course, regularly fail to teach their inhabitants many other things – like how to read. Not learning how to read is not another ‘style’ of literacy, and not learning to see others as your equals is not another ‘style’ of ethics. It is a failure of ethics.
Like most people, ex-Muslims are in favour of people of different ethnicities living together, cooperating to build a better world. What we do not favour, however, is a multi-ethical society, where secular morality is under constant siege from medieval value systems which are of obvious detriment to our species’ well-being. Diversity is not an unconditional good, despite the insistence of multicultural appeasers to the contrary. To finish with a brilliant quote from Ibn Warraq, author of Why I Am Not a Muslim:
While respect for other cultures is indeed a hallmark of a civilised society, multiculturalism is based on some fundamental misconceptions. For one thing, there is the erroneous and sentimental belief that all cultures, deep down, have the same values; or, at least, if different, are equally worthy of respect. But the truth is that not all cultures have the same values, and not all values are worthy of respect. There is nothing sacrosanct about customs or cultural traditions: they can change under criticism. After all, the secularist values of the West are not much more than two hundred years old. If these other values are destructive of our own cherished values, are we not justified in fighting them both by intellectual means – that is by reason and argument, and criticism – and by legal means, by making sure the laws and constitution of the country are respected by all? It becomes a duty to defend those values that we would live by.
The School of Athens, painted by Raphael between 1509 and 1511.