“This autoimmune disorder of the West need not prove fatal if it also has something to say for itself, an affirmative case for its values and vision. But if, in its self-understanding is reduced to mere self-loathing paired with the demographic accident of ‘white, Christian hegemony’, how can it possibly defend itself—how can it possibly mean anything to anyone, not least the migrants it’s meant to welcome with open arms?”
In the Warsaw speech invocations of “the West”, Peter Beinart detects a kind of esoteric code. “White nationalist supporters”, Beinart wrote, “will understand exactly what he means”. Not a confederation of like-minded polities bound by common values, but a mere demographic tribe, those same white rascals he imagines to be the speech’s target audience. “The West” is an expression of the “racial and religious paranoia” of advisor Steve Bannon. But that phrase aims at bigger, nobler referents. To equate the idea of Western Civilization with Bannonism, Beinart performs the same facile reduction of that idea as Bannon does. When he says “the West is a racial and religious term,” this is a plain stipulation --the same made by so many in the dim-right--. I contest Beinart’s projection that democratic India or Japan do not to belong to the West. Japan enjoys the sponsorship of an American empire, governed by a Constitution written by Doug MacArthur’s lawyers. India? India’s in the frigging British Commonwealth. These and many other nonwhite, non-Christian places are well tangled up in the West --influencing and being influenced by it. And, here I’ve just described the fruits of so much colonial rapine. Fine, but you can’t have it both ways. The West can’t be both a bloodthirsty cultural predator and a lilywhite provincial obsessed with its own purity. The currents in the history of the West preoccupied with miscegenation and corruption of the blood are feeble in the face of the overwhelming tide of annexation, assimilation and admixture. It’s messy, but the West nets out as a mongrel civilization, to our credit. So, forget about the racial and religious purity of the West. The cheap bigotry that isn’t so much dog-whistled as stage-whispered, finds a kind of respectability when dressed up in the language of Western Civilization. That’s to be sniffed out and called out where it occurs. To define the West the way such men as these define it, to grant them the right to set the terms of the debate, is to have already lost it.