In his essay The Roots of Europe’s Cultural Masochism Frits Bolkestein asks “How did we come to lose confidence in our own civilization?”
Europeans weren’t always so self-hating. The 19th century saw the high tide of imperialism, and Europe was then brimming with self-confidence. What has happened since then? The past century witnessed the cataclysm of World War I, the rise of collectivist dictatorships during the interbellum, World War II and the Shoa, Stalinism and the societal chaos of 1968 and the years thereafter. These events seemed to erode all our cultural certainties and ushered in the era of multiculturalism, which enjoins us “not to judge” that which is different.
The other foundation of our current condition is, ironically, the very Christianity that modern generations have been so eager to cast off. Whether we like it or not, our civilization remains deeply marked by Christianity. Consider the Gospel of Saint Matthew, which states that “whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (23:12). Friedrich Nietzsche characterized this as “slave morality.” But one does not have to go that far to realize that this saying, along with instructions to “turn the other cheek” and “go the extra mile,” do not exactly prod people to stick up for their own.
If Islamic civilization may be described as a shame culture, Christianity can be deemed a guilt culture…
Christianity may be a guilt culture, but current European/Western self-hatred is based more on our proven destructive and self-destructive tendencies than on any lessons from the Bible. This fear of ourselves and the pacifism this fear inspires took hold after WWII and the use of nuclear weaponry. Of Hiroshima, Robert Oppenheimer said: “We knew the world would not be the same. Few people laughed, few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
In those days, we only had nukes to destroy the planet, but now we’ve got viruses, pollution and lots of world-wasting technology that we probably don’t want to face up to. We’re pessimistic about our culture because one aspect of it is that we literally can be death, the destroyer of worlds.
That doesn’t stop us from fighting each other, or from destructive behavior – we don’t fight real wars anymore, we just fight proxy wars, using weaker, less-guilt driven terror states like Saudi Arabia and Iran as proxies to fight trade/policy wars with nuclear armed nations like Russia and China. Islam is a warrior’s religion – they have no tradition of peace but their prohibitions against innovation cripple their technological and social development, so (we hope) they can’t cause as much damage as we can. We call these low-scale terrorist proxy wars ‘peace’ and ‘stability’.
Since the Russians and Chinese are also deterred by MAD and their own ability to lay waste to all life on the planet, this guilt is not just a western thing..
Christian issues with towards pacifism and guilt probably influenced our current belief that the only solution to our inability to deal with newfound destructive abilities was that “The people of this world must unite or they will perish”. This pacifist, Christian ‘lion laying down with the lamb’ idea is entirely a fantasy of faith. It can never exist in the physical/natural world. We may as well have said that the only way we can live with nukes is to evolve into cloudlike, hunger-free conflict-free energy-based life forms. We’ve set ourselves up to fail.
We are capable of destroying the world that’s know to us, but the universe is still a challenge. Like most problems we have nowadays, I think the only real solution is to treat earth as a harbour, not a home; to explore and to fight the conflicts that will inevitably result, in space. The development of nuclear weapons was the our signal that we’ve outgrown the planet. Currently, we’re like big kids who refuse to acknowledge that kindergarten graduation happened years ago. We refuse to change, we sit cramming ourselves into chairs that have gotten too small, drawing happy pictures of a peace and ecological harmony that can never be, believing that if we can convince everyone to join and sing in Circle Time everything will be ok. It’s not guilt that will destroy us, it’s denial. We need to get up and move on…