Today I came across the following by a very intelligent man who offered a frightening indictment of the Western world. It scared the heck out of me.
Via Dissent Magazine
Once they could no longer believe in the immortality of the soul, many Westerners substituted the project of improving human life on Earth for that of getting to Heaven. Hoping for the achievement of Enlightenment ideals took the place of yearning to see the face of God. Spiritual life came to center around movements for social change, rather than around prayer or ritual.
Most of those who made that switch took for granted that the West would retain its hegemony long enough to bring liberty, equality, and fraternity to the rest of the planet.
The West has reached its acme; it is as rich and powerful as it is going to get. Even the United States of America can deploy military power only by risking bankruptcy. The American Century has ended, and the Chinese Century has begun. America, while in the saddle, did more good than harm. Nobody knows what China will do—least of all the Chinese.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, have made us realize how unlikely it is that the West will be able to determine the world’s future. It is dawning on non-Western nations that their fates will rest with Beijing rather than with Washington. How long Europeans and Americans have to stroll the gardens [the gardens of the West] depends upon how long keeping them open remains in the interests of Cathay.
The tragedy of the modern West is that it exhausted its strength before being able to achieve its ideals. The spiritual life of secularist Westerners centered on hope for the realization of those ideals. As that hope diminishes, their life becomes smaller and meaner. Hope is restricted to little, private things—and is increasingly being replaced by fear.
As I read Rorty's article I began to think of America's Democrats, our Liberals and Progressives, who just can't seem to get things together to present a realistic, positive world view for voters to rally around.
Quoting again from Rorty:
The problem for good-hearted Westerners...is that they seem fated to live out their lives as idiots (in the old sense of “idiot,” in which the term refers to a merely private person, one who has no part in public affairs). They cannot imagine how things could be made better.
But secular Western liberals would still like to think of themselves as brothers to [the rest of the world.] So when... [a liberal well-educated, financially well-off Westerner comes across a poor street-cleaner, he feels uncomfortable, an indictment.] But his only response to this indictment is to think,
How restful it must have been, in another age, to be prosperous and believe that an all-knowing supernatural force had allotted people to their stations in life.And who believes this way? Republicans, Conservatives, Religious Fundamentalists. And so you have the answer to why such people have been in their ascendancy here in the U.S. and why Democrats and Liberals MUST win in 2008 and put the lie to Rorty's indictment.
But before winning in 2008, Democrats and Liberals and Progressives must come up with new ideas, big ideas, real ideas, sexy ideas for universal education, and health care, for alleviating world poverty and global warming.