For what should we be thankful?
We enjoy remarkable prosperity and liberty. We possess economic opportunity, personal freedom, and physical safety to an extent unrivaled in human history. We advance steadily against social injustice.
We have this life in large part because of the ideas and institutions that we received from our Founding Fathers. We have it as well because of the institutions and values that we share as members of Western civilization.
We too seldom discuss the latter.
In his book, Civilization, Niall Ferguson summarizes that for which we in the West should be grateful; to which we must remain dedicated:
- Rule of Law and Representative Government
- Competition in the Political and Economic Domains
- Breakthroughs in Scientific Understanding
- Advancement in Medicine and Health
- Satisfaction of Consumer Demand
- Commitment to Work
As much as our Constitution and Bill of Rights, the foregoing Western institutions and values explain the the prosperity, liberty, and justice that we enjoy today. The history of the West is not without shameful practices and periods, but social progress has been steady, and our lives are beyond compare, whether in respect to that which has prevailed in history or in respect to that which prevails outside of the West today.
Over what should we worry?
And yet, we seem not to appreciate the civilization that has enabled us to have the lives that we do. Not appreciating our civilization, we do not defend it, with worrisome implications.
In the established media, talk-show hosts and newspaper columnists make cynical reads of history and finance to advance an agenda of boundless economic entitlement. On college campuses, which have become citadels of intolerance, professors and provosts impose a program of persecution and conformity, while students agitate against ancient wrongs and petty grievances.
In the White House, our president has failed to find the courage for healing racial wounds and defending our civilization. The Republican aspirants for the White House have likewise failed to demonstrate leadership in bringing us together into a single community of people with diverse heritages and personal preferences.
The result, in the words of Ferguson as he concluded his book in 2011, is that “the biggest threat to Western civilization is posed not by other civilizations, but by our own pusillanimity – and by the historical ignorance that feeds it.”
In 2015, with threats emanating from Russia and radical Islam, ignorance of our history and diffidence toward our values is doubly insidious, as it prevents us from gathering the will for effective response against dangerous external threats.
What should we do?
Those who do appreciate the lives we have today, and who wish for our children and grandchildren to have the same, must promote and protect our civilization, meaning the institutions, practices, and values that have enabled us to flourish economically and progress socially over the last five or six hundred years.
We must insist that self-proclaimed Progressives not exaggerate social injustice; that Democrats not spend us into a ruinous financial crisis; that Republicans not aggravate social differences.
Should we not so insist, we will imperil our Western civilization, for which we should be more thankful and over which we should be more concerned than we seem to be today.
- Synopsis of Civilization by Niall Ferguson: An engaging review and explanation of the rise of the West to ascendance over the Rest during the last five or six hundred years. A call to appreciate that which has brought those in the West, and many outside it, the lives that we enjoy today.
- Niall Ferguson at Hoover Institution: Current articles by Niall Ferguson.
- Niall Ferguson Personal Website: Past articles and books by Niall Ferguson.