Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Victor Davis Hanson Explained in Just 8 Steps

I just finished reading a Victor Davis Hanson speech (from a Hillsdale College transcript). I used to read some of his WSJ articles, and although I respected his intelligence, I was never really impressed with his work. I finally figured out why--most of his articles follow the similar themes, so once you've read one of them, you've read them all. Below are his eight major themes:

1. Western culture is superior because of x, y, and z.

2. Western culture has created the highest standard of living for its citizens worldwide. For example, a poor person in a Western country is typically better off than a poor person in a country that does not follow Western culture.

3. The West's enemies have not followed Western culture. As a result, their citizens are generally worse off when compared to Western citizens.

4. The West values human life more than non-Western countries.

5. Some of the West's enemies are beneficiaries of "unearned capital," such as oil and natural gas reserves. The West needs these natural resources, so its enemies are able to import some of the West's technological advances, but without the West's system of checks-and-balances.

6. The West will have problems battling outside enemies because its system of checks-and-balances, its high valuation on individual human life, and its openness--all of which are responsible for the West's success--will also hold it back when confronted with a serious enemy. [Note: Hanson assumes all wars require the loss of individual Western human life. With drones and WMDs, the West may one day be able to wage war without suffering many losses.]

7. Western culture allows anti-war activists and other relatively comfortable residents to restrict the West's ability to defend itself. The West's enemies have no such problems because their systems are not open and do not have a system of checks-and-balances. Meanwhile, the West's enemies will--using their unearned capital--continue taking some of the best products of Western culture without incorporating the very Western system that is responsible for the creation of these sought-after products.

8. The West's enemies, if allowed to attain high-level technology, such as nuclear weapons, will use these weapons against the West. It is naive and foolish to think otherwise, because these non-Western countries are run by religious fanatics who do not operate under a system of checks-and-balances.

My problem with Mr. Hanson is that paragraphs 1 through 7, even if true, do not necessarily lead to 8. It may be true that countries that follow Western culture will have economic advantages over countries that do not follow Western culture. At the same time, the previous statement does not necessarily mean that non-Western countries will, if given Western items, destroy the West. In short, nothing in paragraphs 1 through 7 logically leads to paragraph 8. At the end of the day, Mr. Hanson is really saying that certain countries are different than we are (and inferior) and therefore they will attack us. I don't follow that kind of "logic."

Mr. Hanson also seems to have devised a belief system that allows the West to feel morally comfortable attacking the rest of the world. Paragraphs 1-7 are stealthily insidious in a way you may not have noticed--they assume that a child born in a non-Western country is worth less than a child who happens to be born in a Western country. In short, Mr. Hanson seems to believe that the accident of birth determines the worth of a human being. I have traveled to several "non-Western" countries, and the parents I have seen in Iran, Costa Rica, and Singapore love and value their children just as much as parents in Europe and North America. I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Hanson's implicit allegation that a child who is not lucky enough to be born in a Western country is worth less than other children.

Moreover, Mr. Hanson forgets that most people do not consider Western culture and civilization to be superior or even enlightened until after the 1700's. To the extent that Western culture is inherently superior to all other cultures, one might ask why such superiority has only manifested itself within the last 300 or so years. To believe in Mr. Hanson's pro-Western approach, one must ignore previous Egyptian, Khmer, Mayan, and Peruvian civilizations and accomplishments.

As for the non-West's "unearned capital," Mr. Hanson forgets the debt that Western civilization owes to the rest of the world. For example, the West and Westerners did not invent algebra or other conditions precedent to our modern-day technological advances.

I can't help but wonder: why do so many smart Republican writers usually end up making pro-war arguments? Why aren't there more anti-war Republicans like Ron Paul in Congress?

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