“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.” — Jesse Jackson “Western Civilization is not, for me, a curriculum of democracy and reason and greatness; it is a history of inequality and oppression,” writes Scott Ross, a teacher. Mr. Ross is by no means a rare ideological outlier among his peers. The view he holds has been taught and propagated at universities across the United States and Western Europe for decades. The situation has become so dire that Yale University has recently cancelled its formerly excellent course called “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present,” because it was allegedly too Eurocentric. Some among the shrinking number of universities that still offer such courses use them merely as a
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“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.”
— Jesse Jackson
“Western Civilization is not, for me, a curriculum of democracy and reason and greatness; it is a history of inequality and oppression,” writes Scott Ross, a teacher. Mr. Ross is by no means a rare ideological outlier among his peers. The view he holds has been taught and propagated at universities across the United States and Western Europe for decades. The situation has become so dire that Yale University has recently cancelled its formerly excellent course called “Introduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Present,” because it was allegedly too Eurocentric. Some among the shrinking number of universities that still offer such courses use them merely as a platform to attack the very culture whose achievements they are supposed to teach. The alleged oppressiveness of the West is the leitmotif that dominates their critiques. This view has boiled over into the larger society and is commonly held today by those on the political Left. We have seen a disturbing display of this mindset during the recent riots when “protesters” kept methodically attacking and destroying symbols of Western culture.
Although it is true that various forms of oppression have been practiced in the West over time, oppression is by no means unique to the West. Oppression has been, in fact, a feature of every civilization that has appeared on the face of this earth. We could say that human history is – in one way – a history of oppression: It has common for those with power to exploit, trample upon and take advantage of their fellow human beings. There is nothing particularly surprising about this, since selfishness and rapaciousness are prominent aspects of human nature.
What makes the West unique, however, is that it is the only civilization to reject oppression and deem it both wrong and immoral. Western civilization stands as the only culture that has had the compassion and humanness to make a deliberate and systematic effort to eliminate oppression and tyranny not only from within its own territories but also in other parts of the world. Central to this enterprise has been the concept of human rights. It was Western thinkers who came up with the unprecedented and novel idea that all men (and women) are entitled to certain fundamental inalienable rights which they possess simply by virtue of being human.
This is how Encyclopedia Wikipedia sums up the evolution of this revolutionary concept:
“Ancient peoples did not have the same modern-day conception of universal human rights. The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval natural law tradition that became prominent during the European Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson and Jean-Jacques Burlamaquiand which featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. From this foundation, the modern human rights arguments emerged over the latter half of the 20th century possibly as a reaction to slavery, torture, genocide and war crimes, as a realisation of inherent human vulnerability and as being a precondition for the possibility of a just society.”
Please note carefully: The concept of universal human rights was developed wholly and exclusively within the Western Tradition. Some of the landmark public declarations where this singularly western principle has been annunciated include the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No other civilization has had the inclination and generosity to extend such rights to the common man. Most of them have, in fact, strongly resisted such efforts in the past, and they still do so today.
Universal human rights are a quintessentially western project. The idea that the king and the pauper, the great and the small, the rich and the poor have the same intrinsic worth and as such are entitled to the same considerations and privileges is not only uniquely western but also inimical to the mindset of every other civilizational streams. Thankfully, Western civilization did not stay with theory only. Over the centuries it has managed – with fits and starts – to evolve a system of governance which translated its lofty ideals into social reality. This achievement has been effected through a form of government which is today known as Western democracy.
According to Encyclopedia Wikipedia, the characteristic feature of Western democracy is “equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for all people.” This is a reasonably fair and accurate description of this distinctly Western form of government. Notice especially the phrase “all people,” which means every person regardless of their social standing, gender, race, creed or sexual orientation.
Thanks to its highly evolved institutions based on respect for the inherent dignity of every individual, Western democracies today treat all people equally before the law and protect the rights of every person regardless of their status or accidents of birth. To ensure maximum fairness, western societies take special care to protect the civil rights of those who belong to groups that have historically found themselves at increased risk of oppression. By instituting the rule of law and guaranteeing the equality of rights, Western democracy has for the first time in history relieved the common man from his long-standing legacy of oppression. Having suffered millennia of domination and tyranny, ordinary people fortunate enough to live in Western style democracies can be free at last.
Not only has the West succeeded in eliminating oppression and extending equal rights to all, it is the only civilization that has seriously attempted to embark on such an enterprise. In all other civilizations, human rights and privileges were the domain of only the privileged few. And those privileged few were invariably black, brown and yellow males, depending on the geographic location of the civilization in question. It apparently rarely occurred to these men that other classes of people in their societies may also be entitled to the same rights and considerations they themselves enjoyed. Instead they treated the rest of the population as objects to be used and exploited for their own benefit and pleasure. And more often than not, those powerful black, brown and yellow males exercised their power over their fellow men (and women) with considerable selfishness and ruthlessness. That’s why tyranny, systemic oppression, exploitation, abuse, and discrimination have always been part and parcel of every civilization save for the sole bright exception of the West. It seems that among all privileged male classes across racial groups, it was only white men who possessed the sufficient empathy and compassion to consider their fellow citizens worthy of the same human rights they themselves felt entitled to.
Perhaps the best way to quickly illustrate the immense difference between the West and other civilizational streams is to contrast the situation of some classes of people in Western democracies with their counterparts who live in societies based on nonwestern values.
Islamic civilization: Women in hijab, 21st century
In some Islamic countries, for example, women are still forced to wear hijabs and burqas and are known to be raped as punishment for refusing to cover themselves. These women cannot walk by themselves in the street, open a bank account or own property. In Saudi Arabia women were only recently allowed to drive a car. In certain Muslim countries women are not allowed to get proper education.
Oppressed? Young western females partying
In contrast consider this telling statistic from the United States:
Women, as a percentage of college degrees: 56%
Women, as a percentage of medical school students: 50.5%
Women, as a percentage of law school students: 51.3%
In a number of African countries where the influence of indigenous African civilization is still strong women are subjected to female circumcision. There are no known health benefits to this practice which in many cases results in severe complications and side effects. The primary purpose behind this procedure is apparently to deprive women of the possibility of experiencing sexual pleasure. Thus, these unfortunate African women are reduced to being sexual objects for the pleasure of men and receptacles for their sperm as child bearers.
African civilization: Young women forced to undergo circumcision, 21st century
This, sadly, is only one of the cruel habits of traditional African culture which has been decidedly male-dominated and misogynic. From the accounts we have, it is quite obvious that African civilization has for the most part treated women as chattel with females seen merely as objects to be bartered and used for the benefit and pleasure of men. An account by a sympathetic 19th century explorer provides a painful insight into the degrading manner in which women were treated in traditional African civilization:
“The females, and especially the young ones are kept principally among the old men, who barter away their daughters, sisters or nieces, in exchange for wives for themselves or their sons. Wives are considered the absolute property of the husband, and can be given away, or exchanged, or lent, according to his caprice … Female children are betrothed usually from early infancy … little real affection consequently exists between husbands and wives, a young man values a wife principally for her services as a slave.”
The slave-like status of women in African culture contrasts sharply with the view of women held in the West. Even as African women were being treated in the most degrading manner described in the account above, Madame de Stael was one of the most admired intellectual voices in Europe, writing books and and hosting literary salons in Paris. Keep in mind the picture of the tyrannized African women as you read this description of Madame de Stael: “Known as a witty and brilliant conversationalist, often dressed in daring outfits, she stimulated the political and intellectual life of her times. Her works, whether novels, travel literature or polemics, emphasized individuality and passion made a lasting mark on European thought.” One cannot but feel a profound admiration for a civilization that would allow a woman to rise to this level of intellectual and social preeminence at the time when nearly all other cultures would view women as intrinsically useless save for their function as household vassals and sex objects.
More than fifteen hundred years before Madame de Stael, European women in ancient Rome were already allowed to inherit property, own assets, initiate a divorce and leave a will. In contrast, many African societies to this day continue to treat their women in their characteristic misogynic fashion despite the West’s decades-long attempts to improve the situation. Islamic and African civilizations, however, are not alone in their degrading and oppressive treatment of women. Unfortunately, more often than not this has been the norm in almost every non-western culture. It is as sad as it is revealing that no non-western culture would of its accord extend full human, civil and political rights to their women. The improvements that they have made on this front are almost wholly due to western pressure and influence.
Turning to another group, gay people face the most severe forms of persecution and oppression in non-western societies. In Islamic Iran, for instance, homosexuals are routinely hanged.
Islamic culture: Gays hanging in Iran, 21st century
In South Africa homosexual women are regularly subjected to “corrective” rape and often killed by men who justify their actions by appealing to the values of indigenous African culture.
Oppressed? Public gay parade, Boston
Racism and ethnic hatred are to this day the common features of non-western frame of mind. Not only that but most of them lack the moral framework to see that there is something fundamentally wrong with their intolerant attitudes toward people who do not look like them. We see harrowing manifestations of this in African countries which still suffer from the unfortunate influence of the indigenous mindset. The Rwandan genocide, for example, in which some eight hundred thousand people were slaughtered in 100 days was driven by ethnic hatred of one group of black people against another. Tellingly, the genocide was accompanied by gender violence. According to a UN report, “Rape was the rule and its absence was the exception… Rape was systematic and was used as a weapon.” Experts estimate that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide. This kind of cruelty has apparently been a common feature of African past. The situation began to improve with the arrival of western values, but the deep-rooted tendencies of African cultures are slow to change.
We could go on, but these examples suffice. Nearly all societies based on non-western values exhibit multiple forms of oppression often to a brutal degree. Racist, intolerant, rights-denying, gay-hanging and misogynist though they may be, these cultures would treat its citizens even more oppressively had it not been for the beneficial influence and efforts of the West, which has gone to great lengths in its effort to extend the rights and dignity of people world over.
One of the steps in this effort has been the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Seen by many as one of the loftiest expressions of the human spirit, it seeks to ensure that all societies and cultures fully respect the rights and dignity of their people. Would you like to guess the name of the only civilization whose values and ideas could give rise to this kind of document? The opening clause gives the game away: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”
Where have we heard language like this before? “The equal and inalienable rights,” “the inherent dignity,” these are, of course, unmistakeably western concepts. And so is the idea of freedom and justice for all. Unfortunately, many non-western cultures still resist the spirit embodied in the Declaration. Unlike Western democracies, their social systems are designed to protect the rights and privileges of the powerful few so that they can continue in their oppression, chicanery and exploitation.
It is truly paradoxical that those who charge the West with being oppressive often in the same breath express admiration for non-western cultures, almost all of which grossly violate human rights of their people and often subject them to procedures that can only be rightfully described as barbaric. This glaring contradiction betrays the critics’ true motives and shows that their attack on the West – which is the only civilization willing and capable of producing free and non-oppressive societies – is completely disingenuous. Rather than seeking justice for all people, their criticism is motivated by ideological reasons that has little to do with the reality of the situation on the ground.
The charge that Western culture is inherently oppressive is one of the most patently ludicrous and self-refuting absurdities of this woke era. Contrary to what the leftist critics contend, the West is the only civilization that has managed to develop a system of laws, rules, customs and institutions that have made the elimination of oppression possible. The consideration and respect that the West has shown for the dignity and autonomy of ordinary human beings has no precedent or equal in world history. While the histories of other civilizations are for the most part unashamed and unquestioned catalogues of chicanery and tyranny, the West is the only culture that bucked and reversed that trend. Western civilization towers alone as the great rights-endowing liberator of humanity. For that, the common man (and the common woman) owe the West an eternal debt of gratitude.