Just Above Sunset
May 16, 2004 - We lost Iraq - so the Chinese win? Could be.
Oswald Spengler wrote The Decline of The West in 1922 – and there you will find this:
The future of the West is not a limitless tending upwards and onwards for all time towards our
presents ideals, but a single phenomenon of history, strictly limited and defined as to form and duration, which covers
a few centuries and can be viewed and, in essentials, calculated from available precedents.
With this enters the age of gigantic conflicts, in which we find ourselves today.
It is the transition from Napoleonism to Caesarism, a general phase of evolution, which occupies at least
two centuries and can be shown to exist in all Cultures. The Chinese call it
Shan-Kwo, the "period of the Contending States." In the Gracchan revolution,
which was already [133 B.C.] heralded by a first Servile War, the younger Scipio was secretly murdered and C. Gracchus openly
slain -- the first who as Princeps and the first who as Tribune were political centers in themselves amidst a world
become formless. When, in 104 B.C. the urban masses of Rome for the first time
lawlessly and tumultuously invested a private person, Marius, with Imperium, the deeper importance of the drama then
enacted is comparable with that of assumption of the mythic Emperor-title by the ruler of Ch'in in 288 B.C..
Well, damn, here we go
… President Bush claimed last week: "People seeing those pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America." On the contrary, they are an integral part of its "true nature and heart": a society that was built on the destruction of the indigenous peoples; that practised racial segregation until 40 years ago; that still incarcerates many of its young black people; that killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese; that has a messianic belief in the applicability of its own values to the rest of the world; that is willing to impose its model by force; that believes itself to be above international law. These too are American values. In this light, the behaviour of the US forces, nurturing a deep sense of racial superiority combined with a disdain for international law, is entirely predictable.
Geez, this guy is harsh! But if you do not accept the basic premise of American superiority perhaps you actually
can come to these conclusions. Accept the basic premise, obvious to most Americans,
and you cannot.
The growing sense of crisis that now pervades the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq could well herald a global shift in perceptions about the "moral virtue of the west". The idea that the coalition was a force for liberation rather than occupation is already a distant memory and is becoming more absurd by the day. There is, though, another and different reason that may lie behind such a growing shift in perceptions. The emergence of the US as the world's sole superpower, which has commanded such worldwide attention, represents only one aspect of a much more complex global picture.
Yeah, yeah – complications
and nuance! Bush doesn’t do nuance, as he has said. There are bad guys and good guys. We’re the good guys,
and when we do really bad things, we’re still the good guys – because that’s not like us. So it’s us against the radical Muslim madmen.
The sudden collapse of European communism, together with US military might and the emergence of the Bush doctrine, has served to highlight the extraordinary power of the US. But another trend over the past quarter-century, which is at least as important - and, in the longer run, is likely to be more important - is the economic rise of East Asia, above all China, and also India, which between them constitute almost 40% of the world's population. The power and influence of western values was a consequence of, and has ultimately always depended upon, the economic strength of the west. The rise of China as a key global player, and probably the next superpower, will be the prelude to the growing global influence of Chinese values. Further down the road, the same can be said of India.
Oh drat! We’re fighting the wrong people in our quest to rule the world – or at least in our quest to
bring them Starbucks and Wal-Mart and Republican fundraisers? Seems so.
Western hubris hitherto has seen the economic growth of these countries as simply an affirmation of growing western influence. Countless BBC news items coo about how western the Chinese are becoming. Well, yes, in some respects, but in others not at all. Modernity is not just composed of technology and markets, it is embedded in and shaped by culture. We will slowly wake up to the fact that the west no longer has a monopoly of modernity - that there are other modernities, not just ours. The story of the next quarter-century will not simply be about American hyper-power, but the rise of Asian power and values.
Everyone won’t be
like us? Oh no!
The invasion of Iraq may well come to be seen as the apogee of the idea of the "moral virtue of the west". One year of occupation has already profoundly eroded that claim. If 9/11 and its aftermath … suggest that we have entered a simple world of American power and moral virtue, a more balanced view of global development suggests that we stand on the eve of a very different world, in which western values will be contested far more vigorously than at any time since the rise of Europe five centuries ago. It is true, of course, that communism, especially in its heyday, represented a profound challenge to western values, but the nature of this threat was always political rather than cultural: and culture is far more powerful than politics.
Yep, Oswald Spengler was
onto something, wasn’t he?
But hold on a moment.
Are we really the bad guys?
Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post, Sunday, May 16, 2004; Page B07
Martin Jacques in The Guardian lists the awful thins we’ve done, culminating in this prisoner abuse scandal. Hiatt counters -
Some will say this is all to the good
if it diminishes the hubris of what President Bill Clinton called the "indispensable nation."
They will say that slave-owning, Indian-eradicating, dictator-propping America was never anything but a fraudulent
champion of human rights.
Ah, that’s better.
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