A couple of years ago I was at an Internet conference and one of the young entrepreneurs who spoke had emigrated from China. He said that whenever his relatives wrote and asked how he was doing, he always told them the same thing: “Why couldn’t I have been born in this country?”
America has been taking a licking in the world from all the people who think we’re arrogant and high-handed in dealing with Moslem terror. Of course nobody treats their own terrorists any differently. China is at war with its own Moslems in its own West, the Philippines has battled a long insurgency, Russia has severe problems in its south, and even the Dutch are getting a little exercised now that a national icon has been stabbed to death in the street.
Moslems are the ultimate outsiders. They have a religion born of nomadic wandering and have always embraced an ethic of conquest. “Raids are our agriculture,” is an old Arab proverb. Islam has “bloody borders” with more settled civilizations everywhere. It is the mark of an advanced civilization to be at war with Islam.
The test for America in the next generation should not be whether we are considered arrogant by the staff of the United Nations or whether we are willing to join Europe in its long, slow, sclerotic decline toward senility. The real cultural test should be whether we can reinvigorate ourselves by encountering and embracing all the emerging civilizations in other parts of the globe. I vote for the latter. I think America’s future lies in the Far East, not in Europe.
How can we abandon Europe? Isn’t it the birthplace of our own civilization? Didn’t John Locke play as much a part in our founding as Thomas Jefferson? Aren’t we children of the Enlightenment?
Yes and no. Let’s not underestimate the incredible accomplishment that Europe bequeathed to us. Chatter all you want about multiculturalism, but there has never been anything on the globe to rival Europe since the Renaissance. I like to measure Europe’s accomplishments by asking, “When was the speed of light first measured?” Most people guess somewhere in the 19th century, around the time the Michelson-Morley experiment refuted the theory of the “ether.” In fact, the speed of light was first calculated in 1676 by Ole Romer, a Danish astronomer, who timed the eclipses of Jupiter’s moons while viewing the planet at different distances from the earth. Think of it! One hundred years before the American Revolution, Europeans had already measured the speed of light!
It would be easy enough to rest proudly on the idea of America as simply an extension of European culture. And in most ways we are. But we are something different as well.
It is impossible to read the Founding Fathers without coming away with the impression: “At bottom, America is an idea.” Right from the start, the Founders were building a system that was so clearly based on a correct theory of human nature that it easily moved across geographic and cultural borders to embrace other peoples. When the Delegates of 1787 were deadlocked over the conflict between the large and small states, Madison told the Convention, “Isn’t it likely that the vast territory to the West will one day be populated so that they will overshadow the states of the Eastern seaboard? And when they do, won’t the difference in population between Virginia and North Carolina become insignificant?” Even at the beginning, the Framers were building a house designed to add new rooms.
SO HERE WE ARE NOW at a critical juncture in our history. Liberals are interpreting the presidential election as the triumph of ignorant Midwestern rubes in “Jesusland” over the sophisticates of the East and West Coasts. That’s not what’s happening. In fact, the sophisticates have squandered their cultural heritage. What the election means is that the majority of Americans have decided not to embrace the sclerosis of Europe — the socialist economics, the culture of caution and despair — along with its domestic hybrids in New York and Hollywood.
The majority of Americans have announced they will not regard the “new frontier” as the lifting of the last sexual taboos on prime-time television or the exciting mystery as to whether polygamy, incest, and bestiality will soon take their proud place as “alternate lifestyles.” The majority of Americans have declared they regard the traditional values of marriage, work, family, modesty, and decency as the bedrocks of human society even if they cannot articulate the reasons for this belief.
Culturally unmoored intellectuals run circles around them, proclaiming that “traditional values” are nothing more than outmoded vestigial forms of idolatry and bigotry. It does not matter. The majority is sticking to its guns, whether it can defend these attitudes in intellectual discourse or not. (I firmly believe they can be defended, but that is another column.)
Where do we find a similar attitude in the world today? The answer is simple: “In the Third World, in developing countries, in traditional cultures that are still economically poor but value hard work and family loyalty as their human capital, their cultural inheritance.”
China is a conservative, family-oriented, tradition-honoring, hard-working country. The Chinese have been misgoverned by elites through most of their history but are finally breaking out of these historical shackles by adopting enterprise and the industrial economy. Political liberalization will follow soon enough. I see no reason why we should be “threatened” by the emergence of China as a modern state. On the contrary, we should welcome China as a peer nation in harnessing the energies of its people to productive enterprise.
India is the same. The Subcontinent is a rich farrago of cultures held together by the cement of the Hindu religion. Now India is emerging as a multitalented center of the Information Age as well. (People who are good at religion also seem to be very good at computers.) There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be celebrating India’s outposts of “outsourcing” as a meeting ground where the traditional cultures of North America and the Far East are shaking hands.
The same goes for almost every traditional society in the world — Mexico, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Senegal, even Iran and Israel. Anyone who gives it the slightest thought realizes that immigrants from strong, family-oriented cultures make the best Americans.
Conversely, why should our habits of moral license and the meticulous cataloging of sexual perversity (get ready for Kinsey) remain our principal export, continually offending traditional cultures and embarrassing ourselves? Even Moslem intellectuals complain that the most offensive thing about the American invasion is our casual immorality and flouting of traditional values.
There isn’t any reason why America has to be the world’s smut peddler, capitalizing on other people’s lasciviousness and disrupting family-oriented societies before they have had the chance to gain a foothold in the modern world. With religion playing a larger role in the American landscape since the past election, there isn’t any reason we cannot revert to our oldest tradition and once again become a “Shining City on the Hill.”