Sclerotic America needs to be destroyed
– TIME-CNN-Channel 4 Discuss the West’s Decline
Author of The Book That Made Your World: How The Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Thomas Nelson, May 2011)
Last night (Sunday, March 6, 2011) BBC and CNN began what FOX News has been doing for a while – discuss the perceived decline of Western civilization. Fareed Zakaria served as the anchor in the CNN special, “Restoring the American Dream: Getting Back to #1.” It will be broadcast again on Saturday, March 12. Britain’s Channel 4 also launched a six-part series based on Harvard historian, Niall Ferguson’s book, Civilization: The West and the Rest. Ferguson is the prime witness also in the CNN program and in TIME magazine (March 14, 2010) that preceded the shows.
Fareed Zakaria is one of the finest products of the secular West. He agrees with Ferguson’s pessimism, “When I look at the world today and the strong winds of technological change and global competition, it makes me nervous.”
Why should the most innovative and entrepreneurial nation in the world be so nervous about technological change and competition?
Zakaria explains that “the most unsettling” aspect of the problem is that Americans (that includes TIME’s Editor-at-Large, David von Drehle) “seem unable to grasp the magnitude of the challenges that face us.”
Why can’t secular Americans comprehend?
Zakaria takes statistics seriously: America’s 15-year olds rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. In the “Developed” world, Americans have slipped from #1 to #12 in college graduation and 79th in Elementary School enrollment, and yet, for every $1 that America spends on young people under 18, it spends $4 on senior citizens. This, Zakaria says, proves that a self-centered generation now controls the American political system in its own self-interest. It invests in its present but not in America’s future. The main legacy this generation will leave to its children is the burden of guns and debts.
How do Zakaria and Ferguson understand these statistics?
Interestingly, Zakaria agrees with FOX host Glenn Beck that the problem is political. However, while Beck thinks that the solution lies in returning to the 18thCentury Founders such as Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, Zakaria, on the other hand, considers that to be “unreflective ancestor worship.” In his opinion the solution lies in discarding the Constitution that no one understands now. He writes in TIME “. . . the Constitution was one of the wonders of the world – in the 18th century. But today we face the reality of a system that has become creaky. We have an Electoral College that no one understands and a Senate that does not work, . . . We have a crazy-quilt patchwork of towns, municipalities and states with overlapping authority, bureaucracies and resulting waste. We have a political system geared toward cease-less fundraising and pandering to the interests of the present with no ability to plan, invest or build for the future.”
So, what is the solution?
Following economist Mancur Olson’s thesis in The Rise and Decline of Nations,Zakaria feels that America may need what happened to Germany and Japan: Before the World-Wars, Great Britain was the super-power. It won the Wars, but the nations that lost and were virtually destroyed quickly overtook Britain after WWII. They surpassed Britain because their destruction gave Germany and Japan the opportunity to get rid of past and build their future. Conclusion: A catastrophe is needed to destroy a “sclerotic” America, and give it an opportunity to reinvent itself.
As an academic, Niall Ferguson has had a bit more leisure than Zakaria to analyze the problem. He understands that the problem is not American but “Western.” Therefore, his series is more detailed. Britain’s Channel 4 launched it last night and will continue for five more weeks. Ferguson’s thesis is that 500 years ago, following the Protestant Reformation, the West “patented six killer applications that set it apart” from “the Rest” of the world. These were “competition, modern science, the rule of law and private property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic.” Japan was the first non-Western nation to download these killer applications, but now many nations, including China and India, are downloading them. China’s size enabled it to easily surpass Japan. Soon, India will surpass them both.
But why should others progress be a problem for America?
In an article in The Telegraph published today (March 7, 2011), Ferguson gives one of his conclusions: “we are already living through the twilight of Western predominance. But that is not just because most of the Rest have now downloaded all or nearly all of our killer apps. It is also because we ourselves have lost faith in our own civilisation.”
I suspect that Ferguson will be very embarrassed if someone told him that his conclusion is virtually identical with what Glenn Beck has been saying on FOX News. One difference is that while Beck tends to blame this loss of “faith” on some political conspiracy, Ferguson perceives that the West’s loss of faith in its core assumptions is linked to the secularization of its universities.
It was (pre-secular) education, he writes, that nurtured Western civilization: “In Britain, public school boys and Oxbridge men (and it was mostly men) were expected not only to have read the classics of the ancient world (Western civilisation’s first incarnation) but also to have a good grasp of the West’s revival after the Dark Ages and subsequent rise to global dominance.
“Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution, French and American Revolutions, Industrial Revolution, Electoral Reform – the big “Rs” of the West’s ascent – were noted, memorised and then “discussed” in innumerable essays.”
Secular education, Ferguson goes on to lament, was not able to sustain this older tradition of Christian education, . . . “And then something changed. After around 1960, the word “civilisation” slumped in popularity. Universities – beginning with Stanford in 1963 – ceased to offer the classic ‘Western Civ’ history course. To the generation that came of age protesting against the Vietnam War, Mahatma Gandhi had been right when he implied that ‘Western civilisation’ was a contradiction in terms. It was nothing more than a euphemism for a blood-steeped, bomb-dropping imperialism.
“In British schools, too, the grand narrative of Western ascent fell out of fashion. Thanks to an educationalists’ fad that elevated ‘historical skills’ above knowledge in the name of ‘New History’ – combined with the unintended consequences of the curriculum-reform process – most British teenagers now leave secondary school knowing only unconnected fragments of Western history. . . Throughout the English-speaking world, moreover, the argument has gained ground that it is other cultures we should study, not our own.”
What is Ferguson’s solution?
Well, today I hope to buy his book and if you want to get my review of his book, you are invited to join www.RevelationMovement.com. As far as his article in The Telegraph is concerned, it suggests that he offers no solution only an ability to estimate how quickly the West will fall, “[My television series] is of more than purely historical interest. For it is only by identifying the causes of Western ascendancy that we can hope to estimate with any degree of accuracy the imminence of our fall.”
Why can’t Fareed Zakaria and Niall Ferguson offer solutions?
Actually, more significant questions are:
(i) Why did the West lose “faith” in beliefs, values, and practices that made it #1? Could it be that the source of these “killer apps,” i.e., the secret of the West’s success was the Bible, and without the Bible the West is neither intelligible nor sustainable? How, for example, can a secularist understand human equality rooted in divine creation, or inalienable human rights endowed by the Creator, rather than by the state? Why should a generation nurtured on individualism make sacrifices for a nation’s future? Aren’t “nation” and “nationalism” dirty words that came from the Bible? If I have the right to kill my pre-born baby in the name of “personal choice” then don’t I have the right to put my personal convenience above my child’s need to go to elementary school or study math? Shouldn’t the state take care of me in my old age, instead of the old-fashioned ideas of family and church?
(ii) If the best products of secular education, such as Fareed Zakaria, cannot even understand biblical concepts such as “Rule of Elders” (Electoral College and Senate) and self-government (of individuals, cities, and states that limit Federalism), then can the “Rest” of the world sustain faith in “the West’s secret sauce?”
Must we desire a catastrophic destruction for America to return to sanity? My forthcoming book, The Book That Made Your World: How The Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization goes where TIME, CNN, Channel 4, and FOX need to go to understand the West’s rise and decline. It also gives a solid basis for a new great awakening. You can get a foretaste of the book by visitingwww.RevelationMovement.com and watching my 11-part video series, Must the Sun set On the West?
California, March 8, 2011