On September 19, 2019, accepting the Defender of Western Civilization award from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute at the fourteenth annual Gala for Western Civilization, Sir Roger Scruton gave a splendid address, his last one before he left this world after battling cancer. The core message of the speech was that if Western civilization is under attack, this is happening precisely because it's Western, and "the word Western has been taken to be a standard term of abuse by so many people in the world today." Yet, he explained, Western civilization is not even close to what its detractors think it is — namely, some narrow, small-minded thing called Western. It is instead "an inheritance, constantly expanding, constantly including new things. It is something which has given us the knowledge of the human heart, which has enabled us to produce not just wonderful economies and the wonderful ways of living in the world that are ours, but also the great works of art, the religions, the systems of law and government, all the other things which make it actually possible for us to recognize that we live in this world, insofar as possible, successfully." That's why "we shouldn't despair of Western civilization." We're talking about, he concluded, "an open, generous, and creative thing called civilization."
Sir Roger's remarks came to my mind as soon as I read the first pages of Suicidio occidentale (Western Suicide), the new book by Federico Rampini, a prominent Italian journalist who lives in the U.S. and holds Italian and American citizenship. If an attack in the heart of Europe caught us unprepared, he argues with reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is because we were engaged in our own cultural disarmament and self-destruction. The dominant ideology spread by elites in universities and in the media requires us to demolish self-esteem and blame ourselves for almost everything that goes wrong in the world. According to this ideological dictatorship, he says, we Western countries no longer have values to offer the world and the new generations; we only have sins to expiate and lessons to learn.
This is the suicide of the West. In many U.S. universities, Rampini notes, it is impossible for non-extremists on issues of sex and gender to have freedom of speech. The New York Times in particular, says Rampini, bears heavy responsibility in this regard for playing a central role in the creation of Critical Race Theory. Putin's aggression on Ukraine, backed by Xi Jinping, he concludes, is a consequence of the fact that the two major autocracies know we are sabotaging ourselves.
Well, that makes perfect sense, does it not? After all, isn't it true that Putin wouldn't have dared to attack Ukraine if the 45th president had gotten a second term? And this not only because of Trump's personal charisma, but also — if not mainly — because of his philosophy and anti–politically correct narrative. From this point of view, too, the change at the White House was a disaster: Joe Biden's "woke" presidency is a luxury the West couldn't and can't afford.
The subtitle of Rampini's new book, however, is as hopeful as the aforementioned Roger Scruton's exhortation: "Why it is wrong to erase our values and history." From this perspective, the war in Ukraine could prove an opportunity for the West. It could pave the way to a new self-consciousness and a better understanding of our collective past, present, and future. There's othing (or very little) to do, however, with the Industrial-Military complex and what Sharon Beder called business-managed democracies — namely, "democracies where the politics and cultural life of nations are managed in the interests of business."
If America and the West are such horrible, racist, and bigoted places, then why aren't people trying to escape? And why so many migrants are trying to cross our borders illegally? Why are Ukrainians so eager to enter the E.U. and NATO? The answers to these and other similar questions are to be found in a correct understanding of what the West really is — of its soul, which makes its body alive.
"Whatever we do," said Sir Roger,
we must fight back against this accusation that somehow our civilization is narrow, dogmatic, bigoted, and exclusive. It is not so. ... Why are we now being forced into a defensive position when it's so obviously the case to anybody who knows anything about it that what we call Western civilization is another name for civilization as such, and for all the achievements of civilization that young people need to know about and if possible to acquire. The problem, it seems to me, extends largely from the invasion of the academic and intellectual world by activist groups who do not take the trouble to learn enough to know what they're up against but nevertheless define their position in terms of political agendas. ... I think this invasion of political activism into universities and into the humanities and into all those channels of civilization is one of the great disasters of our age.
What you need to do, Sir Roger concluded, "is engage in dialogue, which is what civilization is about."
Try to understand the human condition in all its complexity. And when people try to radicalize and politicize the curriculum and what is taught and thought about in universities, you don't have to go along with this. You can even laugh at them. It still actually is legally permitted to laugh at people in our country and in our civilization. After all, comedy is one of the great gifts of civilization. And it's up to you, I think, to exercise it.
What a masterful teaching!
Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021). He is Italian and lives in the Venice area.