In the last few days I’ve been catching up on my reading by going through back issues of National Review. This morning I came across an excellent article (requires subscription) by Victor Davis Hanson. It’s a review of Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy by Natan Sharansky, and lines up well with what Fjordman and any number of our commenters have been saying in this space recently.
Several choice paragraphs are worth quoting:
To the extent that identity matters in our post-colonial, post-imperial age of collective guilt, Westerners honor only purported victims of our past sins. People of color, non-Christians, women, and gays, all are encouraged to showcase their “difference” in agitating for “equality,” and for a sort of reparation, either material (through affirmative action) or psychosocial (through white guilt and shame).
Natan Sharansky is not fooled: All these hyphenations have nothing to do with the sort of identity he is advocating, but rather suggest that these supposed victims have in fact shunned their identity. They fail to see that they are Americans or Europeans, who operate within, and benefit from, a particular culture of long ancestry. When Western man finds no strength from kindred souls of the same religion, harbors no hope that his culture or nationality can enrich humanity, he becomes a sort of dead soul, easily manipulated and prone to accept any totalitarian idea — Fascism, Communism, consumerism — to fulfill the great human desire to find commonality with like persons.
Sharansky knows, of course, the dangers of radical Islam and white supremacy — ideologies in which a particular identity replaces humanity — and thus he explains, in detailed arguments, why democratic government is crucial in channeling the expression of natural allegiances in reasonable directions. Without democratic government and constitutionally protected freedom, we devolve into gangs and cliques and tyrannize smaller and weaker groups. And yet without identity, democracy becomes blasé and inhuman, as citizens feel no particular loyalty to their nation, or to a shared culture or religion. It was, after all, postmodern universalist Europe that let thousands die nearby in Srebrenica, did little to come to the aid of the Dutch cartoonists, believes the suicide bomber is on the same moral plane as the Israeli settler, and will, we know, never take many risks to stop the slaughter in Darfur.
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The catalyst for Sharansky’s anger, as we glean from this book, is the West’s double standard when it comes to the Middle East. We exact from Israelis a standard of behavior that we would never demand of the Palestinians, apparently on the assumption that as kindred Westerners they are supposed to be above identity and exhibit little pride in being Jewish or Israeli — utterly ignorant that such political correctness would, and may still, end Israel’s will to confront undemocratic, racist, and intolerant enemies on its borders.
What threatens most of the world may be an absence of freedom, but what threatens the survival of the West is a sort of slavery of the material appetites, and the sloppy belief that all cultures are the same and that we should never judge others by standards that have made us uniquely free, secure, and prosperous. Sharansky believes we are now in an age in which the wages of our sins are coming due, as those who despise the West sense that we believe in little other than cheap platitudes and would never be willing to define others as less successful than ourselves, or even sacrifice to defend what they wish to destroy: “Indeed it is difficult for a society that has been waging war on its own identity in the name of peace to reverse course and now rebuild what they have been systematically trying to dismantle for generations.”
NB: Yes, I think he meant “Danish cartoonists”. Unless he was thinking of Gregorius Nekschot.