October 08, 2006

Suicide of the West: or Mr Smith goes to Spengler

Chris Smith, Blair's ex-Culture Secretary, has set off on a Spenglarian vein, calling out that the West is committing suicide. He talks of an 'unconscious process' of destroying the values, the building blocks of Western civilisation- science, individualism, liberalism, optimism, growth and Christianity.

Well this blog would like to demur on several grounds. Firstly Smith forgets that many strains within his concepts conflict- Christianity has a long record of disparaging free speech, liberals a long record of upholding it, science has a long record of questioning our optimism about human nature and our beliefs in God, liberals have a long history of mourning the death of freedom etc etc. Secondly he forgets that much of what he sees as decline is only temporary and very recent- despite that there is no doubt that liberals have gained new Eastern European allies over the last twenty years, there are more scientists now around working on more advanced problems than ever, there is more individual liberty all across the West and in many other places than ever before. His pillars of Western civilisation turn out as well to be recent and matters of interpretation as well- Edmund Burke, John Milton, William Shakespeare and many others would never have described themselves as Liberals and Fyodor Dosteovsky and Karl Marx would have disdained the label, yet all five are key figures within 'western' civilisation (a civilisation that owes as much to China as to many countries in Europe put together- not to mention the contributions of such notable Christians as Averroes).

Chris Smith's errors warn us not to get so wrapped up in the narratives of fear about today as to lose our sense of perspective about our position within the past either for good or evil. Saying that we have problems today, should not lead us to forget that often greater problems were not recognised or were faced in the past.