We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Blogs and talk shows have been all over Steyn's provocative piece in the WSJ this week, which we noted here. It's rare for a columnist to create such a stir. Here are a few reactions I felt were interesting:
As I read Steyn’s words, I recalled the conclusion of agnostic Charles Murray in his book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Science 800 BC to 1950. In the last chapter Murray discusses the role of transcendental goods in creating an environment for human accomplishment, the declining rate of accomplishment over the last 150 years when compared to population growth and the apparent lack of great art, music and literature in the 20th Century.
Confucianism and Aristotelianism along with the great religions in the world were for grownups, requiring mature contemplation of truth, beauty, and the good. Cultures in which the creative elite are not engaged in that kind of mature contemplation don’t produce great art.
Steyn demonstrates that in Europe’s case, a culture that dwells only upon the here and now can’t seem to produce much of anything, much less works of art, music and literature to transcend the ages. Writing solely of future artistic and scientific accomplishment, Murray is far more optimistic. He likens the period from the Enlightenment to the end of the 20th century as a sort of adolescence of the human race from which the elite will soon emerge with the adult realization that their parents were smarter than they ever thought they were.
Auster put some time into a serious rebuttal of Steyn, in a series of comments. One quote:
First, notice that Steyn is no longer making Western decadence, statism, PC, and lack of confidence the source of the crisis. Now he’s saying that Muslims themselves, opposed to the modern world, and expanding rapidly both in their home countries and in the West (“the fastest-breeding group on the planet”) are enough to destroy our civilization. And he's saying that there’s nothing we can do about this, unless he means to suggest that the only way we can survive the Muslim challenge is not by merely restoring a healthy native fertility level, but by surpassing the Muslims’ extremely high fertility rate and becoming the “fastest-breeding” group on the planet ourselves. Since the idea of Westerners breeding like Muslims is absurd, Steyn’s argument comes down, once again, to pure defeatism.
"do we have a right to expect more from writers like Steyn, by way of specific ideas about how Europe can save itself from welfarism and economic and demographic decline? Is it good enough to write despairing articles saying it's time to write-off Europe? Do we not owe Europeans, not only recognition of their great problems, but also a spirit of willingness to help them save themselves, if they emerge from present crises willing to throw off the current elites and the insanity of the bureaucratic monoliths they are presently building? Finally, can we North Americans hope to maintain our culture without the trans-Atlantic ties that have always been integral to who we are?"
The world is becoming a more dangerous place, despite your new protocols of childlessness, pacifism, socialism, and hedonism. Islamic radicalism, an ascendant Communist China, a growing new collectivism in Latin America, perhaps a neo-czarist Russia as well, in addition to the famine and savagery in Africa, all that and more threaten the promise of the West.
So criticize us for our sins; lend us your advice; impart to America the wealth of your greater experience — but as a partner and an equal in a war, not as an inferior or envious neutral on the sidelines. History is unforgiving. None of us receives exemption simply by reason of the fumes of past glory.
As an American patriot and Christian who languished growing up in godless Europe, I would still like to mention the curious irony that this beloved country of ours, despite being the most devout in the world, has produced less decent art, literature, architecture, and other evidences of civilization than the godless Europeans.
For me personally, the choice was easy: better to sacrifice the decadence of more civilized Europe in favor of republican decency, vigor, honesty, faith and enterprise. I love America, consider it God's own country. But I still have hankerings after created beauty of the type I took for granted growing up in Europe: for a beautiful building, a painting worth the name, humor with some intelligence, even irony.
It is just as I feel today worshipping in a church I love where the musical repertoire is hideous, singers off key, liturgy clumsy--ie: all the aesthetics are off. I do so gladly (forsaking another church with glorious Bach and exquisite services) because faithfulness to the teachings of Christ is the litmus test of a church, not the art of its musicians or liturgists.
My point, nevertheless, is one that many of you may consider treacherous: we Americans are still barbarous, crude, babies in the fields of civilization. That is our weakness and our strength--we are not so mature or so jaded as our older European brothers. Having said all that, I agree completely with the idea that without faith a civilization just implodes.