Columnists > Voices

How the West was lost

Prophetic words on contemporary cowardice and its effects

Issue: "False witnesses?," Oct. 5, 2002

ON THE CUSP OF WAR WITH IRAQ, AND IN THE aftermath of a courageous speech by a president before the United Nations, Sept. 12, 2002, I step out of the way and cede my space to a prophet:

"A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites.... There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice.

"And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts of boldness and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists....

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"... A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics cling to him at all times; he is constantly rebuffed by parliament and the press. He has to prove that his every step is well-founded and absolutely flawless.... Thus mediocrity triumphs under the guise of democratic restraints.

"... The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations....

"This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which man-the master of this world-does not bear any evil within himself, and all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected....

(On the press) "Because instant and credible information is required, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids.... How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, and are then left hanging? The press can act the role of public opinion or miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters pertaining to the nation's defense publicly revealed....

"Very well-known representatives of your society ... say: 'We cannot apply moral criteria to politics.' Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute evil in the world. Only moral criteria can help the West against communism's [plug in al-Qaeda's] well-planned world strategy.... After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis....

"And yet, no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons even become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal....

"... How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present debility? ... The mistake must be at the root ... born in the Renaissance and [given] political expression since the Age of Enlightenment.... It has made man the measure of all things on earth-imperfect man.... We are now paying for the mistakes which were not properly appraised at the beginning of the journey....

"If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption....

"Even if we are spared destruction by war, life will have to change in order not to perish on its own. We cannot avoid reassessing the fundamental definitions of human life and society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him?"

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