Is the West Worth Defending? By Joseph Pearce.

There are many people who will cite the West as something which is under threat and something for which we should be prepared to fight to defend. Depending on which defender of the West is pontificating, the threat comes from Russia, or from Islam, or from China, or from some enemy within the West itself. The question is, however, meaningless unless we have a clear understanding of what exactly is meant by the West?

For some people the West is that civilization that grew from the meeting of Athens and Jerusalem, encompassing the philosophy of the former and the theology of the latter. For others, the West is that civilization that has emerged in Europe and America since the Enlightenment and which is characterized by secularism in politics and relativism in philosophy.

The older West has been called Judeo-Christian civilization or simply Christendom. The post-Enlightenment West has been called Liberalism or simply Modernity. The problem is that the earlier West has not been replaced by the latter West, in the sense that Modernity can be said to have eclipsed Christendom. On the contrary, the two civilizations continue to exist side-by-side, in contradistinction and conflict.

The post-Enlightenment West has tried to crush the Christian West at various times. We think perhaps of the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, the French Revolution in 1789, and the Russian Revolution of 1917. With regard to the last of these, it is important to insist that the Bolshevik Revolution was a Western Revolution, regardless of whether we consider Russia to be part of the West, because the ideas of Marx and Engels, as heirs of the philosophy of Hegel and others, were very much of the post-Enlightenment Western tradition.

If Russia is not of the West, the Russian Revolution was the imposition of post-Enlightenment Western values on the Russian people, an act which might be called cultural imperialism. Yet, according to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prizewinning writer, it is wrong to see Russia as being distinct from the West. Considering Russia to be part of that older Western Civilization, known as Christendom, Solzhenitsyn insisted that Russia and the West were essentially part of the same threatened Christian civilization and that both had succumbed to the evils of post-Enlightenment modernity.

If, therefore, Western Liberals see Russia as an enemy of their West, many Western Christians, agreeing with Solzhenitsyn, see their Eastern Orthodox brothers as allies in the traditional West’s war against the new West’s Modernity.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Having defined the two Wests, we can now answer our original question. Is the West worth defending?

If one believes in the traditional West, or what might be called Christendom, it is worth defending not merely against threats from the East, such as that of Islam or Chinese Communism, but against the threat from within posed by Western Liberalism. If, on the other hand, one believes in the post-Enlightenment West, it is worth defending not merely against threats from the East, such as Russia, but against the threat from within posed by Christendom. In short, we should respond to the question of whether the West is worth defending by asking the more important question of which West we are being asked to defend.

Joseph Pearce,


Joseph Pearce is Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. A native of England, Mr. Pearce is the St. John Henry Newman Visiting Chair of Catholic Studies at Thomas More College (Merrimack, NH), editor of the St. Austin Review, and series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. He is the author of numerous books, which include The Quest for ShakespeareTolkien: Man and MythThe Unmasking of Oscar WildeC. S. Lewis and The Catholic ChurchLiterary ConvertsWisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. ChestertonSolzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc, and Further Up & Further In: Understanding Narnia.


And there is this exhortation to live in peace if possible with all:

The letter of Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-1085): Gregory . . . to Anazir, Islamic king of the province of Mauretania Sitifensis in Africa.

“Your Highness sent to us within a year a request that we would ordain the priest Servandus as bishop according to the Christian order. This we have taken pains to do, as your request seemed proper and of good promise. You also sent gifts to us, released some Christian captives out of regard for St. Peter, chief of the Apostles, and affection for us, and promised to release others. This good action was inspired in your heart by God, the creator of all things, without whom we can neither do nor think any good thing. He who lighteth every man that cometh into the world enlightened your mind in this purpose. For Almighty God, who desires that all men shall be saved and that none shall perish, approves nothing more highly in us than this: that a man love his fellow man next to his God and do nothing to him which he would not that others should do to himself.

This affection we and you owe to each other in a more peculiar way than to people of other races because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore him as the creator and ruler of this world. For, in the words of the Apostle, “He is our peace who hath made both one.”

This grace granted to you by God is admired and praised by many of the Roman nobility who have learned from us of your benevolence and high qualities. Two of these, Alberic and Cencius, intimate friends of ours brought up with us from early youth at the Roman court, earnestly desiring to enjoy your friendship and to serve your interests here, are sending their messengers to you to let you know how highly they regard your prudence and high character and how greatly they desire and are able to be of service to you.

In recommending these messengers to Your Highness, we beg you to show them, out of regard for us and in return for the loyalty of the men aforesaid, the same respect which we desire always to show toward you and all who belong to you. For God knows our true regard for you to his glory and how truly we desire your prosperity and honor, both in this life and in the life to come, and how earnestly we pray both with our lips and with our heart that God himself, after the long journey of this life, may lead you into the bosom of the most holy patriarch Abraham.”

The Correspondence of Pope Gregory Vll

Romans 12:

[18] If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men. [19] Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. [Romans 12:18-19]

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