Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Western Tradition

(Note: This is Part 1 of a larger piece)

It is seemingly customary now when writing positively of the western tradition to begin the essay with the sentence: “The Western Tradition is under attack!” The words “culture”, “heritage”, or “civilization” can also be used, seemingly interchangeably, and the effect is basically the same. One imagines the ideal reader shrieking “W-w-what?!” like Mrs. Brovlovsky of South Park, and then crying, “Get in here Harold! This fellow says that the Western Tradition is under attack!”

At this point, the essays tend to dwell mightily on the “attackers” of the Western Tradition, or at least straw representations thereof, and spend almost no time at all telling us what the Western tradition actually is. Apparently, we all know this by now- it’s Plato, Shakespeare, and some other guys- and just need to know which attackers we should attack in order to become cultivated. Generally, the attackers to be attacked are: lousy professors, feminists, liberals in general, cultural relativists, immigrants, the media, the 1960s counterculture, and sometimes Enlightenment philosophes. It goes without saying that the defenders are generally conservative.

I should note though that it’s not so self-evident: after all, one could easily imagine a leftist making the case that Western culture is under attack by capitalist consumer culture, and in fact, Marx did make a similar case. After all, the opponents of globalization have long argued that mass marketed culture is destructive to traditional cultures; they have just avoided taking up the cause of traditional Western cultures for reasons unknown. Okay, perhaps, because they were assigned to the “other side” in the early 90s “culture wars”. It’s hard to join others in burning effigies of yourself.


Anonymous said...

Totally off topic: We're not dead, and we're not giving GSM the cold shoulder. It's much worse than that; we moved and have internet problems. We'll be back online someday. Looks like you've posted all manner of good stuff!


rufus said...

No problem whatsoever. It was like that in Marseille for me, and may well be like that in Nantes.