What is the West? Part I
By • 1/18/08
The Magna Carta.
White activists are motivated by a desire to preserve the distinctive culture that whites have created, which we call “the West.” But what is the West? And why is it so precious to us? This article will begin to address this question by exploring the distinctive traits of the Western political tradition. The intellectual and moral traditions of the West will be dealt with in future articles on The Inverted World.
Our guide through this complex subject will be a superb article by Karl W. Deutsch called “On Nationalism, World Regions and the Nature of the West” that catalogs and briefly describes the West’s distinctive features: Deutsch lists twenty-one.1 This list is consistent with other accounts of the uniqueness of the West, such as those contained in David Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Fernand Braudel’s A History of Civilizations, and Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order.
Deutsch defines the West as the region that includes Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. He dates the beginning of Western culture at 600 BC, when Solon ruled that Athens should be governed by representative democracy at the beginning of that city’s cultural miracle.
The social and political traits of the West that Deutsch lists can be sorted into a few large categories. These are:
- Limitations on the power of rulers. Western cultures have tended to limit the powers of rulers to prevent the emergence of despotism. Westerners prefer what political scientists call “the rule of law,” or the principle that no one, not even a monarch, is above the law. Furthermore, the West has limited the power of rulers by allocating spiritual and temporal power to different institutions, church and state.
- Autonomy of individuals and groups. The West has to a greater extent than other cultures granted autonomy to individuals. Westerners have had a greater freedom to decide for themselves how best to live without interference from governmental or other authorities. Autonomy has two major expressions: Individualism, or the freedom of the individual to choose how to live his life; and Pluralism, or the freedom of individuals to form semi-autonomous groups rooted in social interests.
- Tolerance. Tolerance is the trait that makes the first two possible. Only a tolerant culture can allow individuals and groups to express conflicting interests.
The traits I have listed are generally taken to be characteristic only of Western modernity. This impression is wrong, however; the traits listed above were more prevalent in the West than elsewhere even in the Middle Ages, as well as in Classical Age. To show that this is true, I will concentrate on the medieval period in this article.
The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 declared that the government of the commonwealth was to be one “of laws and not of men.” No one is above the law: this concept, known as “the rule of law” by political scientists, is central to the Western political tradition. Indeed, it is perhaps the trait that better than any defines the distinctive essence of white societies and links the spirit of classical Athens to that of twenty-first century America. The white race instinctively loathes a despot and shows a continual impulse to set limitations on the powers of rulers.
The fifth century Athenian historian Herodotus spoke very much like the founders of Massachusetts: in his history of the Persian war, Herodotus uses the concept of rule of law to distinguish between the spirit of Greece and that of Persia. He has a Greek captive declare to the Persian emperor Xerxes that, whereas Persia is governed by the emperor’s arbitrary whim, the Greeks “have a master, the law, which they fear even more than your subjects fear you.”2 Plato agreed: “For wherever in a state the law is subservient and impotent, over that state I see ruin impending; but wherever the law is lord over the magistrates, and the magistrates are servants to the law, there I descry salvation and all the blessings that the gods bestow on states.”3
The tradition of the rule of law in the West begins with the institution of the laws of Solon in sixth century BC Athens; subsequently, the rule of law was codified in the Roman civil law, the clerical Canon Law, and the English Common Law traditions, which together form the basis of current Western law.
In most other world cultures—Deutsch mentions China, Japan, South Asia, West Asia, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Aztecs and Incas—restrictions on the power of rulers has been absent or minimal. In Latin America and Russia, there is a tradition of the rule of law, but it has not been consistently or rigorously implemented. Although the rule of law has not always been respected by Western governments, “in its strength, depth and age of many centuries, the Western tradition of the rule of law, despite its breaches and exceptions, is unique.”4
Another Western tradition that limits the power of rulers has been the separation of church and state. Ever since the fifth century, when St. Augustine drew the distinction between the City of God and the City of Man, the norm in the West has been that these separate institutions have authority over the spiritual and temporal spheres of human existence. This has meant that Westerners have effectively lived under two different rulers. Deutsch points out that this division has always tended to promote freedom, as one form of authority could always be criticized from the perspective of the other. The dualism of church and state is unique to the West: in no other culture has there been such a long-standing division of spiritual and temporal power.5
The second major trait of the Western political tradition is autonomy, or the right of people to decide how to live their lives without interference by the authorities. The first manifestation of the trait of autonomy is individualism, which is personal autonomy. Deutsch uses the freedom of the individual to choose a spouse as his example. In the 17th century, a “Romeo and Juliet revolution” swept Europe; the two young lovers who had defied their families’ plans for an arranged marriage became heroes to young people everywhere, who insisted that their families leave them free to choose a spouse. As the novels of Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding testify, the conflict between individual desire and family authority was a constant theme of the literature of the 18th century, with writers consistently coming down on the side of the Romeos and Juliets.6 The revolution in marital choice was part of the broader movement of humanism that emerged during the 16th and 17th century that stressed the individual’s right to determine for himself what was true and ethical independently of religious dogma and tradition.
Individualism came first to the West, and although it spread rapidly to the rest of the world in the 20th century, non-Western cultures have never allowed individual autonomy to the extent that the West has. For example, as Deutsch points out, in most regions of the world, marriages are still arranged by families.8
The Western tradition of autonomy is manifested not merely in individualism, but in pluralism. All cultures form cohesive groups on the basis of kinship, and in nation-states, there is an overarching national bond. However, what distinguishes the West is the formation of groups based on other types of bonds. The West has traditionally allowed cities, professional interest groups, and religious groups limited autonomy and freedom to express and work towards their own interests. As a result, political power has been less centralized and more fragmented in the West than in non-Western states.
One example of Western pluralism is the distinction between church and state discussed above—power was distributed between two major institutions rather than being centralized in one. The church granted considerable autonomy to different religious groups as well. After the sixth century in Europe, monasteries and religious orders developed forms of self-government.
Another example of Western pluralism is the autonomous cities that developed during the Middle Ages, like Venice, Genoa, Florence, Milan, Ghent, and Bruges. State rule over cities was quite weak, and they were largely free to govern themselves. In part because of this freedom, the towns were motors of economic growth through industry and trade.9
Another type of interest group that developed of the Middle Ages was the guild. Guilds were groups that expressed the interests of professions, such as merchants and craftsmen. Guilds imposed standard wages and fees for different types of work and controlled entry into professions. There were guilds for lawyers, physicians, jewelers, tailors, glassblowers, apothecaries, and so forth. Even prostitutes sometimes formed their own guilds.10
Many other of the later developments of Western culture that Deutsch mentions, such as the influence of merchants and capitalists and the emergence of the labor movement in the 19th century, are also manifestations of the West’s tolerance for the expression of group interests.
The right of Westerners to make their own decisions, both personally and as part of interest groups, has been a major source of the innovation and economic success of the West. People work harder for their own profit than that of a despotic government. Moreover, autonomy assured that “popular participation in economic, cultural, and political life was far greater in Western culture than in other civilizations of the world.”11 States that allow popular participation are naturally more responsive to the people and to reality than those that are simple vehicles for the interests of a despot or a despotic class. The result of our tradition of pluralism is modern Western civil society, with its wealth of organizations and interest groups.
The final major political characteristic of the West is tolerance in matters of thought and religion. Deutsch sees precursors of modern tolerance in the democracy of classical Athens and the enlightened Roman empire of the second century AD. Modern tolerance emerged first in the American colonies of the 17th century and in Western Europe in the 18th century. While it is true that for most of history, Western societies did not tolerate freedom of speech and worship, they were uniquely tolerant in other respects. The pluralism and individualism discussed above require tolerance for different and competing perspectives. While traditions of tolerance have been present in other world cultures, “in no other world region has the spirit of tolerance been as strong and sustained, nor have the effects of an epoch of Enlightenment been so powerful and lasting, as they have been in the West.”12
The distinctive political traits of the West were manifest even during periods that we normally think were despotic and unfree, such as the Middle Ages. Although it is true that people in the medieval periods possessed much less autonomy than modern-day Westerners, the culture of the European Middle Ages was much more Western than any other world culture of the time. A good illustration of medieval political values is the Magna Carta, a document ratified in 13th century England that embodies many of the distinctive traits of the West.
The Magna Carta was a product of the English nobility and church’s resentment of the misrule caused by the arbitrary use of power by King John, who had lost English holdings in France and levied new taxes on the nobility. The document, which curbed the power of the monarch, is thus an example of the Western taste for the rule of law. One of the demands of the document was the establishment a council composed of English nobility and churchmen, which was the precursor of the English parliament. This parliament was independent of the monarch and acted as a permanent check on his rule. The Magna Carta was, then, an early manifestation of Western pluralism that allowed diffferent groups to voice their interests.
The Magna Carta also reveals how the spiritual power of the church acted as a check on monarchical power. John had offended not merely the nobility, but also the church by appointing church officials without consulting churchmen. The resultant conflict between church and state led to John’s excommunication by the Pope. The church supported the nobility in their attempts to limit the power of the king, and churchmen sat on the new council.
The Magna Carta was also an important step in establishing individual rights, as it gave the right of habeas corpus, that is, the right to a trial, to all free Englishmen. The document established the courts as the only body with the right to imprison free men, thus protecting them from the arbitrary whims of the monarch.
Today’s historians, who consist almost exclusively of race deniers, would deny that the traits described here are rooted in the biology of whites and attribute them to external accidents. However, there are good reasons to believe the contrary. We know that genetic differences lead to group differences and that personality traits are about 50 percent heritable. Consequently, the distinguishing traits of any given culture, which are rooted in the personalities of the people that constitute it, are almost certain to have some biological basis.
Another reason to believe that these traits are rooted the genetic nature of the white race is that they tend to be present, though in a more limited and less developed form, in non-Western cultures that are dominated by whites. Deutsch ranks other world cultures by the extent of their conformity to Western values and finds Russia, a white culture, and Latin America, which has been politically dominated by whites, have values closer to the West than others.13
The rule of law, the separation of church and state, individualism, pluralism, and tolerance, then, define the distinctive political culture of the West. It may seem odd that I grant such pride of place to pluralism and tolerance, as these, after all, are liberal ideals that are used to discredit white racial solidarity. However, we must remember that all good qualities, when taken to irrational extremes, are turned to evil. Tolerance and openness to different perspectives are inherently good things, but they become evil when they are used to force whites to tolerate those who are hostile to and incompatible with their culture.
As I pointed out in Humility and the West, race realists have little to say about the nature of Western uniqueness. The lack of such a theory hobbles our movement because we are unable to explain to whites why our racial preservation is a matter of such crucial concern to us. It is plain that touting whites’ superiority in IQ has not been sufficient to convert the mass of whites to racial consciousness. In order to get whites to rally to our cause, we need to show that our central Western values, those values that whites hold most dear, hang today in the balance, and will decline if we lose power over our ancestral homelands.