The guest-post below was written by Hanne Nabintu Herland, a Norwegian historian of religion and the author of the 2010 bestseller Alarm! Tanker om en kultur i krise (“Alarm! Reflections on a culture in crisis”).
Many thanks to the reader in California who sent this in. The translation is the author’s.
Time to uphold Western roots
by Hanne Nabintu Herland
For quite some time Muslims and non-Western immigration into Europe have been a hot topic of discussion. The recent horrible blow of terrorism in Oslo on July 22 has brought about new discussions on the Norwegian government’s failure to respond properly to the issues of cultural clashes that face Norway, as well as Europe as a whole. Let us hope Ayaan Hirsi Ali is wrong in predicting civil war in Europe if we are able to cope with the growing number of immigrant groups and their cultural implications.
But why have Europeans generally been so preoccupied with foreign religions and other cultures while so little is said about Europe’s own cultural values? Most non-Westerners emigrate from their homelands because they believe that it is considerably better to live in a European country. How is it that we today are not allowed to emphasize the positive elements in European culture? The brilliantly civilizing elements of Western Culture actually laid the foundation for the growth of stable democratic states in Europe. The combination of the Protestant Ethic’s emphasis on the Jewish Ten Commandments and capitalism’s espousal of hard work and earned wealth made Western Culture a leading global force. Independent courts protected the human worth and civil rights of the individual. The capitalist market system has since spread in triumph over the world and released millions of people from lives of poverty.
Sociologist Max Weber’s work has shown that the fundamental values of a state are not irrelevant factors. The success of capitalism is related to a highly specific series of ethical norms grounded in the Calvinist traditions of honesty, hard work and integrity. Financial crises occur when moral principles that provide the basis for the optimal functioning of capitalism are abandoned. Greed and egoism gain the upper hand.
All values are therefore not equally good for building a state. Many cultures have values that are both destructive to society and disregard humanity. Some values create human communities and set healthy limits so that no one has the right to override others. Other values and ideals provide an opening for social chaos where the individual’s egoism is primary. Self-satisfaction and -realization then occur at the cost of solidarity and common civility.
Author Seth Kaplan emphasizes in Fixing Fragile States that countries which today succeed in implementing a well-functioning capitalism continue to exhibit a strict moral emphasis on work, individualism and personal property rights. It is impossible to build a well-functioning society without a solid ethical foundation, for which abominable conditions in many African states provide ample demonstration. Where authorities do not provide real judicial rights and where corruption is pervasive, there is weak economic growth and great social unrest. For what happens in a state where it is legitimate to lie? If it is acceptable to steal from the workplace? If the societal glue of trust and loyalty is dissolved, only irresponsibility and betrayal remain.
A society characterized by modern diversity certainly does not require that pride in national values be choked. In The Study of Religion, Peter Berger, one the most important sociologists of our time, points out that diversity and pluralism do not imply a contradiction between maintaining one’s own cultural anchor in religious traditions and respecting the beliefs of others.
How have we arrived at a situation in which Europeans are dutifully required to only emphasize the positive in foreign cultures and the negative in the European culture? Why is one labeled a national chauvinist as soon as one mentions constructive aspects of traditions? One of the answers is that the denigration of our own cultural background is enshrined in the present 68ers’ politics that have characterized most of Europe the last 40 years. Spokesmen for value-relativism considered it their primary task to fight society’s traditional authorities. A modern multicultural society should be based on a universal science that replaced national culture. The odd idea prevailed that as soon as every remnant of European traditions was removed, a classless socialist utopia would be realized. Today everyone knows that the cultural radicals were wrong. Europe has not become a paradise even though the 68ers’ worldview permeates all levels of society and defines policies in sector after sector. It has, however, paved the way for the legitimization of a norm-dissolving egoism in a society that detests terms such as self-discipline, responsibility and duty. As a consequence of the liberalization process, no one dares to speak positively about traditional culture at the risk of appearing chauvinistic or racist.
The Left also failed to understand that in the foundation of their own historical values there exist such basic Jewish and Christian values as the duty of solidarity and the equalizing of class differences. Central Leftist values also have their roots in traditional culture and carry important values that modern society lacks. Today Europe finds itself in a deep cultural crisis. Deconstruction of social authorities such as teachers, clergy and police has gone so far that it is almost not permissible to discuss the setting of limits. Today everything is cultivated except the cultural backbone of society.
In Nasjonalstaten the Norwegian professor Sigurd Skirbekk calls for a stronger national solidarity concerning Norway’s own traditions. He maintains that society depends on a common platform that includes moral and cultural qualities. It is a paradox that while historical national military conflicts had previously been referred to as events that gave us “freedom as a gift”, modern historians call these same events “an obsolete nationalism.” Without the constructive nationalism that characterized many European countries in that historical phase, freedom would not have been achieved.
The destructive chauvinism that leads to genocide of the kind that Europe experienced with the totalitarian Hitler’s National Social German Workers’ Party in Germany (Nazi) does exist. At the same time, a positive form of nationalism exists, offering people a secure cultural identity so that they can find their place in an ever more global society. Today it is time for a renewed focus on our own positive cultural traditions. We need the freedom to again to be proud to be European.