In Defense of Dead White Men, Part 3: The West and the Rest

Previous: In Defense of Dead White Men, Part 2: Western Civilization and the Common Core

 

The inevitable ramifications of the propagation of a combined ignorance of and hostility toward Western Civilization among the inheritors of that civilization are disastrous. A person who is so entirely out of touch with the sources of his own ideas and the various institutions around him is a person who is alienated from self and from society. He is unable to understand either of them. More than that, the individual who is ignorant of and hostile to his own culture cannot help but be ignorant of and hostile to other cultures. He cannot understand them on their own terms nor appreciate them for their own merits. His alienation has fostered within him a radical individualism which allows him to see himself, contrary to objective reality, as an isolated cell rather than a part of a larger whole: a community, a society, a nation, a culture, a civilization, or even mankind itself. He only accepts, and in fact he only understands, that with which he agrees. This is perhaps one of the primary reasons the architects of the Common Core have chosen so many modern texts which represent the experience of immigrants to the United States or, more often, second-generation Americans, who write with a hostility toward their newly adopted nation and its traditions while there is a dearth of material listed in their recommendations which can be said to be authentically representative of the native literary and intellectual traditions of the civilizations from which these immigrants have come.

The obsessive focus on “global perspectives,” in the terminology of the Michigan Department of Education, ignores a key aspect of the contemporary global situation, namely, the worldwide predominance of ideas and institutions whose origins are deeply rooted in the history of Western Civilization. China, a rising world power and the most populous nation on earth, provides an outstanding example. The current official name of China is the People’s Republic of China, a nomenclature which reflects the reality of their adoption of Western political and economic ideas. Their political and economic system is a mixture of the free market ideas which originated in early modern Britain; the ideas of Karl Marx, a German-born Jewish immigrant to Britain; and the democratic and republican political ideals of the Greeks and Romans. The native tradition of Confucianism, which dominated political, economic, and social thought in China for millennia plays no role outside of certain lasting and largely unconscious vestiges in custom and perspective. In the popular uprisings which overturned traditional Chinese government and culture in the first half of the twentieth century, the Chinese largely discarded and destroyed their own Confucian cultural heritage, intentionally reforming their nation along a Western model.

The same is true in large part in India, another rising world power and the second most populous nation in the world. One of the great historical ironies of the twentieth century is the overwhelming inspiration ideas with Western origins provided to the nationalists and anti-colonialists in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Nowhere is this more amply demonstrated than in India, where the leaders of the nationalist movement were almost to a man educated in Western schools, or in Western-style schools in India. The most famous leader of the independence movement in India, Mohandas Gandhi, for example, received his primary and secondary education in schools administered by the British government. All but one year of his post-secondary education was completed at University College London.

In his 1959 The Movement of World Revolution, Christopher Dawson provides an illuminating statement by Sardar K.M. Panikkar, one of the leaders of the Indian nationalist movement, to this effect:

In the first place [says Panikkar] the system of higher education in English provided India with a class imbued with social purposes foreign to Hindu thought. The continuity and persistence of those purposes achieved the socio-religious revolution on which the life of modern India is based. While British administration did little or nothing to emancipate the spirit, to extinguish the prejudices, to eradicate the ravages of ignorant custom and pernicious superstition, the New Learning which came to India through its introduction to the English language on a nation-wide scale undoubtedly did all this. Indeed it may be argued that the essential contradiction of the British rule in India lay in this: the constituted government upheld the validity of customs, maintained and administered laws which denied the principles of social justice, refused to legislate for changes urgently called for by society, watched with suspicion the movement of liberal ideas, while the officially sponsored and subsidized educational system was undermining everything that the Government sought to uphold. … In the educational system the Government created and maintained an opposition to itself in a place where its own methods were ineffectual.

The mining of the ancient fortress of Hindu custom was a major achievement, for the reason that it was uniformly spread all over India. Had the new education been through the vernacular languages, the emphasis of the movement would have been different from province to province. … There would have been no “master plan” of change, and instead of the Hindu community being unified, it would have split into as many units as there are languages in India. … From this development India was saved by the common medium of education which Macauly introduced into India.

In the second place it is a point of major significance in the evolution of India as a single nation that this uniform system of education throughout India through a single language produced a like-mindedness on which it was possible to build. That it gave India a common language for political thinking and action is of less importance than the creation of this like-mindedness, this community of thought, feeling and ideas which created the Indian nationality.1

It was the exposure to Western thought through the medium of the English language, in other words, which made the Indian nationalist movement possible. The Western focus on social responsibility and political action, with origins in Greece and in Judaism, inspired the Indian nationalists. The unity of thought and expression brought about by the common language, both in words and ideas, in which they were educated made their unified movement possible. Today, India is rightly proud of its great past, displaying, for example, the symbol of the Emperor Asoka, the ancient king who unified India almost 2300 years ago, on their national flag. They are also a nation with a government and a burgeoning economy centered in sciences and technologies which all originate in the history and thought of Western Civilization.

 

Notes

1 Sardar P.K. Panikkar, quoted in Christopher Dawson, The Movement of World Revolution (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1959), 124-126.

Next: In Defense of Dead White Men, Part 4: Origins of the Western Difference

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