Monday, January 02, 2006

Liberalism and the suicide of the West

Update below.

In 1964 James Burnham wrote a book entitled Suicide Of The West. In it, he concluded that liberalism is "an ideology of suicide." The book was written during the cold war, but the principles are still relevant today.

In an essay at The New Criterion, Roger Kimball examines how the self-hating, vacuous, morality-paralysing creed of liberalism constitutes a threat to the continued existence of the West and its ideals: freedom, tolerance, respect for the individual and economic prosperity.

One of the most penetrating meditations on the nature of that alteration is James Burnham’s book Suicide of the West. Written in 1964, that book, like its author, is largely and unfairly forgotten today. Burnham’s was a first-rate political intelligence, and Suicide of the West is one of his most accomplished pieces of polemic. “The primary issue before Western civilization today, and before its member nations, is survival.” Suicide of the West is very much a product of the Cold War. Many of the examples are dated. But as with Irving Kristol’s Cold War, so with Burnham’s. The field of battle may have changed; the armies have adopted new tactics; but the war isn’t over: it is merely transmogrified. In the subtitle to his book, Burnham promises “the definitive analysis of the pathology of liberalism.” At the center of that pathology is an awful failure of understanding which is also a failure of nerve, a failure of “the will to survive.” Liberalism, Burnham concludes, is “an ideology of suicide.” He admits that such a description may sound hyperbolic. “‘Suicide,’ it is objected, is too emotive a term, too negative and ‘bad.’” But it is part of the pathology that Burnham describes that such objections are “most often made most hotly by Westerners who hate their own civilization, readily excuse or even praise blows struck against it, and themselves lend a willing hand, frequently enough, to pulling it down.”

UPDATE: Suicide Of The West is also mentioned in Thomas Sowell's essay at Townhall: Serious or suicidal?

That is where we are internationally today. Many years ago, there was a book with the title "The Suicide of the West." It may have been ahead of its time.

The squeamishness, indecision, and wishful thinking of the West are its greatest dangers because the West has the power to destroy any other danger. But it does not have the will.


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