Sunday, June 18, 2006

The White Man's Burden


Western Civilization's Burden

Wow, this is a little weird but hit the link. I have to say I buy into this. And I'm also a great fan of Kipling's. What's the problem?

10 comments:

acb said...

Maybe because I am reading this a couple of hundred miles above the arctic circle, it looks sillier than wierd to me.Kipling I venerate. But Victor Davis Hanson? This gloriously selective list of decisive battles, culminating in an American victory in the Tet offensive, which led of course to 200 years of stable and benevolent colonialism in the reunited Vietnam?
HE -- in the long run I don't think you can weld the idea that choice is a good in itself, for everyone, onto the authoritarian structure of the things that VDH identifies as "Western civilisation".
I do agree that the rule of the law, and various other ideas whose emergence can be clearly delineated in Europe, are very good things, ad better than what they often replaced. I don't for a moment think that all cultures are equal. But this page seems to be plugging the VDH idea that cultural (in the broader, non-artsy sense) and military superiority necessarily coincide. If that were the case, you would have to explain why eg Sparta conquered Athens; why the Persians conquered the free cities of Greek Asia Minor; that little hiccup in Western Europe ca 500-1500; why Switzerland did not conquer despotic and disunated Italy as easily as despotic Spain conquered the even more despotic Aztecs ... I have to drive on to the most northerly co-op store in the world, whose existence probably has some bearing on this argument.

Boofykatz said...

I've always wondered why Kipling's call to arms met with such withering scorn from the post-colonial left. It has always seemed to me that his espousal of universal values, 'you're a better man than I, Gunga Din', was a clarion call to the left. I'm with you on this one.

H. E. said...

Now that I'm sober...I've re-read this piece. Dang thing is that when I stumbled on it--and I don't remember how--I didn't even pick up on the imperialistic/militaristic line, and I had to go back to see who the heck Victor Davis Hanson was. If you look at it, the bulk is not about world conquest at all but about the distinction between race and culture, the affirmation that some cultures are better than others, and the revisionist account of "white."

You can certainly hold this without buying into the idea that it licenses imperialism or unrestricted interference in the business of sovereign states. There are cost arguments. I don't see that imperialism has got to be the subtext in any affirmation of the superiority of some cultures. In fact I kinda wonder whether I'm not getting this tagged on me because I'm Amurrican. As far as our little adventure in Iraq, which I never supported, goes--predictably, we dislodged a secular dictator and opened the way for radically anti-Western Islamicists to take over. Certainly not my agenda. Certainly I don't believe that our current regime's rhetoric about promoting "democracy" and "freedom" has anything to do with serious cultural imperialism as distinct from installing pro-American dictators who will establish economic policies consistent with US dogmas and interests.

As for Kipling's anti-racism, Gunga Din is nothing--see "Lisbeth" from Plain Tales from the Hills--a clarion call to the left if ever there was. Or "His Chance in Life," or "Maraj-gi"--where Kipling notes that under a native regime the local pasha would have appropriated that superb working elephant but that under the Raj, his mahout owned him outright and made a decent living through their mutual efforts.

To me it raises the question of why we should value "self-determination" where that's understood as being governed, however despotically, incompetently or corruptly, by members of your own race or nation. My fantasy is an invasion by the EU or Japan--and in that event I will be throwing flowers at the tanks rolling down Main Street.

I wish I were north or the Arctic Circle. I had an unexpected adventure in Iceland in 2002 and liked the weather (though nothing else)--cold, wind, drama. Strange lot they were--speaking perfect English, looking like us, but different in disconcerting ways. They maintained long silences, it was very difficult to read them and they didn't queue--one after another they bumped ahead of me waiting for busses, at checkout lines, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open. Is this generically Scandinavian or just Iceland I wonder?

Sanpete said...

If, as the author of the linked site claims, "white" has nothing to do with actual race or ethnicity," why the emphasis on "white"? Why the photo comparisons making fun of Arab/Muslim culture (quite unfairly)? The author claims to be a "culturalist," which of course is a variation on "racist," and the author plainly has most of the bad features of a racist, including ignorance, arrogance, prejudice, and hateful aggressive tendencies.

In some ways we have learned so little from our own past. While exhibiting supreme confidence of the rightness of our own ways, and willingness to impose them on others, we give little thought to the history of such confidence. "Sure, others were wrongheaded about this in the past and created great misery, but not us! We really are better, and we know it, and know what is best for all."

acb said...

I don't see that imperialism has got to be the subtext in any affirmation of the superiority of some cultures. In fact I kinda wonder whether I'm not getting this tagged on me because I'm Amurrican.

Come on! Absolutely not. And I would add that the expression of various "Western" or "white" ideas is better and more complete in America than here. But you spread your cultures with the imperialism you have,not the one you would like, as Rumsfeld would have said. Kipling was a very great artist. I don't think the British in India behaved like thoughtful Kipling fans. More like the characters in Jewel in the Crown.

To unpack the difference between race and culture -- whcih is hugely important -- we have to consider the case in which the superior culture originates in one race adn thre spreads to members of another (assuming, as seems reasonable, largely monoracial cultures to start with, or at least a distincito between cultures which appears to the participants to co-incide with a racial one)

This requires the the people brought up in the inferior culture to take on the values of the superior one, and that, it seems to me, requires that the superior one be regarded as spocially superior, more prestigious, more powerful, as well as being ethically superior. So at once we have, it seems we are rquired to have, a situation in which membership of one race is regarded as prima facie evidence of ethical distinction. The only way out of it is to have a third, common enemy.

Proper Lapland is very strange indeed. I have no idea if people queue here -- they do, a bit, in the south. But to do the experiment, you would have to get a queueful of people together. Doesn't happen often.

acb said...

bollocks. Blogger swallwed my italicised quote. I was reacting against the presumption that I was dragging imperialism into it because you're an american. I'm not.

H. E. said...

There may be an incompatibility problem with your browser--the italicized quote shows on the blog for me with Safari, Netscape and Explorer though.

I'm not arguing for the Raj--even Dinesh D'Souza couldn't conjure up more than two cheers for colonialism and I take your point that during the period of enculturation race does become prima facie evidence for cultural superiority. But it doesn't follow that the only fix is an alliance against a common enemy.

Wish I could find the quote now but there's an account of Clotilda's (Mrs. Clovis) pilgrimage to Rome by an eye-witness--this is I think 6th Century--who expresses amazement that even though she was blonde she was pious, well-behaved and not at all the barbarian she looked to be. It took a few centuries but seems like it was the Western Church's centralization, cultural imperialism and insistence on Latin liturgy that ultimately pushed Western Europe into the high middle ages and renaissance by creating an intelligencia with an international language that had access to the literary resources of antiquity--and the Eastern Church's multiculturalism, including the translation of the Liturgy into Old Slavonic, that did in the territories in the Orthodox domain.

I don't support US neo-colonialist policies or military adventures in any case because they set back the program of cultural imperialism and I have no sympathy with "freedom" and "democracy" construed as laissez fair capitalism and pro-US policies respectively.

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