We live in a world defined by Western culture, but for many on the left, the West has come to an intellectual crossroads. They believe that the institutions and philosophical schools that motivated the American founders, created an environment in which the industrial revolution was able to flourish, and moved Christian leaders to lobby for the abolition of slavery are negated by other, darker, aspects of Western history. They believe the same force that facilitated such tremendous material and social advancement is directly responsible for Western imperialism and the systematic oppression of women, minorities, and the global south in general. They believe the institutions that assured the West’s global preeminence are forever marred and obfuscated as a tradition directly tied negatively to Western oppression and hegemony.
Many liberals, especially those on university campuses, view Western culture as an undeniable component of current and past worldviews, but any presumption of Western cultural merit would be an anathema to a post-modern vision of society. For example, in 1995, Yale returned a twenty million dollar donation contingent on the implementation of a Western civilization program; they seem bent on exorcising it from the present world. For modern liberals, Western culture is the “original sin” that created the discursive imbalances.
But the postmodern and distinctly cultural and moral relativism they offer in its place is woefully inadequate as a mechanism for organizing society. Inspired by French philosopher Michel Foucault, they reduce society to power relationships and imbalances between societal groups. Worse, they advance Foucault's Marxian view of inherent societal disequilibrium by arguing that not only do such societal imbalances exist, but the entire societal discourse is dominated and framed by the power imbalance inherent in Western culture. This focus on discourse as an intrinsic part of oppression drives much of the postmodern liberal animus towards Western culture. After all, it is free discourse that has entrenched power dynamics and continues to be the source of racial, gender, and cultural tensions that have not only influenced the darkest parts of Western history but also remain a destructive force in modern society.
This is no movement to redeem Western culture. There's no intention to weigh both where Western society has gone awry and where it has triumphed. Instead it's a movement to expunge “original sin”, to pursue savaltion through iconoclasm, the muzzling of free speech, and the rejection of the Western canon. It's a salvation through destruction.
Will Brantley is a member of St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford. He is pursuing a Master’ s in Global and Imperial History with a focus on British intellectual movements in British India during the early nineteenth. He graduated Summa cum Laude from Hampden-Sydney College in three years in the spring of 2015. He is a member of the Oxford University Conservative Association and a social officer at his college. Will is an avid reader, a politics junkie, and music lover. He is originally from Memphis, Tennessee.